It is an article of faith that closing the “gun-show loophole” would make America a safer place. But that is what it is: faith. In 2008, three criminologists (one of them not at all friendly to guns) studied the effects on murder and suicide rates in California (which prohibits private sales without a background check) and Texas (which does not). They looked at homicide and suicide rates for adjacent ZIP codes for a week after gun shows. They found no change in suicide rates, and in Texas, which has no restrictions on private party sales, a small but statistically significant reduction in gun homicides.
This might seem surprising, and at first glance, it is. Except for one little detail: Criminals appear not to buy guns at gun shows, because guns are expensive. It is so much cheaper to steal guns instead. At Newtown, the killer first murdered his mother to steal the gun. At Clackamas Mall in Oregon in December, the shooter used a rifle he’d acquired by stealing it from a friend. In April of 2007, David Logsdon of Kansas City, Mo., murdered his neighbor and stole her late husband’s rifle for a mass murder.
I do not have a serious problem with requiring all firearms sales to go through a background check. But I do have a serious problem with pretending that this is going to make much of a difference in murder rates. You want to do something about murder? Look at the typical murders — not the highly atypical ones.
— Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012).