Biden’s gun policy prescriptions likely won’t stop mass shootings

The New York Times estimates that four gun control measures being considered by Congress “may have changed the course of at least 35 mass shootings” since 1999 – a third of attacks in which a gunman killed at least four people. While this conclusion is overly optimistic, the paper at least asks the right question: Are the new gun restrictions likely to work as advertised?

President Joe Biden, on the other hand, simply assumes the wisdom of the policies he favors and the bad faith of anyone who opposes them. “The problem we face is a problem of conscience and common sense,” he insisted last week, suggesting that skeptics are missing one or both.

Among other things, Biden wants Congress to require background checks for private gun transfers, which means those transactions must be made through a federally licensed dealer. The Times found that four of the mass killers in the 105 cases reviewed had purchased firearms through private transactions.

One of these perpetrators had previously failed a background check. One of the other three, reports the Violence Policy Center, “legally purchased” a gun from a gun shop. According to a 2013 review in The Atlantic, it is unclear whether either of the other two killers had a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record.

In at least one in 105 cases, therefore, an expanded federal background check requirement might have been a barrier. But that assumes that private sellers generally comply with that mandate, and data from states that theoretically require “universal background checks” suggests those rules are widely flouted.

The Times found that at least 20 mass murderers used magazines with more than 10 rounds. The 1994 federal “assault weapons” law, which expired in 2004, banned the production and sale of such magazines, and Biden wants Congress to renew that limit.

Although we assume that the need to change magazines after firing 10 rounds can make a significant difference in mass shootings, the effectiveness of a ban is questionable. A 2004 report commissioned by the Department of Justice found that the 1994 ban had no measurable impact on the use of “high capacity magazines” in crimes, likely “due to the immense stock magazines exempt before the ban” – a stock that is even larger now than it was then.

In 10 of 105 mass shootings analyzed by The Times, the perpetrators used stolen weapons. The document suggests that Biden-backed “safe storage” legislation could have made a difference in these cases.

One such bill would establish a $500 fine for gun owners who fail to secure their guns in circumstances where a minor “is likely to have access to them” or in households where a resident It is illegal to own firearms. If a minor or prohibited person uses an unsafe firearm to injure or kill someone, the owner faces up to five years in prison.

The bill would also provide grants to encourage states to establish and enforce similar requirements. The idea that such laws could prevent would-be mass shooters from obtaining firearms assumes broad compliance and a lack of alternative sources, two questionable assumptions.

The Times says that “four of the gunmen could have been blocked” by a law prohibiting federally licensed gun dealers from selling semi-automatic centerfire rifles that accept detachable magazines to anyone under 21. This bill, which Biden also supports, avoids the arbitrary distinctions drawn by “assault weapons” bans, which target firearms based on functionally unimportant characteristics.

Since the bill does not apply to private transfers, adult buyers under the age of 21 can still legally obtain semi-automatic rifles. Additionally, a federal appeals court ruled last month that banning young adults from buying such guns because a tiny fraction of them might commit violent crimes is inconsistent with the Second Amendment.

Before deciding whether to support policies like these, lawmakers should rationally weigh their costs and benefits, including their constitutional implications. Biden prefers a different approach, replacing logic and evidence with self-righteous certainty.

Jacob Sullum is editor of Reason magazine.

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