Most troubling are McCain’s extreme measures for what is essentially a non-existent problem. The Bureau of Justice Statistics under Clinton conducted a survey of 18,000 state prison inmates in 1997–the largest survey of inmates ever conducted. Less than one percent of inmates (0.7 percent) who had a gun obtained it from a gun show. The vast majority of criminals–40 percent–say they got their guns either from friends or family, and 39 percent got it on the street or from other illegal sources.
Of course, like with many gun-control regulations, this call for more regulations rests on distortions. Despite the “gun show loophole” term used by McCain and others, there are no special exemptions for buying a gun at a gun show. Dealers must perform the same background checks as in a store. What gun-control groups refer to is the non-regulated private transfer of guns. Eighteen states regulate the private transfer of handguns, with some having regulations going back more than several decades. However, not surprisingly, just as with the semi-automatic gun bans, there is not a single academic study showing that these regulations reduce any type of violent crime.
McCain has also done advertisements on behalf of Americans for Gun Safety, a gun-control organization that supports licensing and registering every gun owner in the United States. He has used the ads to greatly exaggerate the risks of children getting access to guns in the home–a claim that is based upon a questionable survey–and asked that people lock up guns. With the threats he claims existed, few would know that in 2002, for example, the number of children under 10 who died from accidental gun shots was 20, and the number of children under 15 was 56. Obviously, one death is too many, but McCain has launched no similar campaign against other much more dangerous items in people’s homes. No mention was ever made by McCain about using guns for self-defense or that gunlocks might make it difficult to stop intruders who break into your home. And research indicates that McCain’s push for gunlocks is far more likely to lead to more deaths than it saves.
Unfortunately, these are not the only misleading advertisements that McCain has made for Americans for Gun Safety. As David Kopel has pointed out, McCain has also made misleading advertisements on an array of other issues, such as the Brady Law and gun shows.McCain has helped protect guns owners, such as supporting legislation to protect gun makers from reckless lawsuits, but for McCain to argue this week that he is reliably pro-gun relies on conservatives having very short memories. Possibly the threat of Hillary Clinton being president will convince conservatives to vote for McCain, should he win the nomination. But unless he denounces his past positions, it won’t be because they believe he is a “pro-gun” conservative.
–John R. Lott Jr. is the author of More Guns, Less Crime and The Bias Against Guns.