Our View: Push persists, despite myth

Posted: February 2, 2013

Virginia lawmakers last week quashed an effort to require a criminal background check for anyone purchasing a firearm at a gun show. But this has not signaled an end to a push to close the “gun-show loophole.”

Such is the “Newtown effect” — i.e., the urgent need to “do something” — that a trio of state senators has crafted a bill to authorize voluntary background checks at gun shows.

The intent of all this striving seems to be a reduction of a statistic oft-bandied — that 40 percent of firearms purchased nationally are done so without a background check — but decidedly untrue.

The figure, itself a misrepresentation, has its basis in a Clinton-era survey of 251 gun sales consummated before the Brady Act required mandatory background checks when guns are bought from licensed dealers. The actual number reported, so says indefatigable scholar John Lott, was 36 percent. And even that was wrong, as many buyers canvassed in the survey did not know they had dealt with licensed dealers. Mr. Lott pegs the number more accurately at 15 percent.

The bottom line, he added, is if the same survey were done today, that figure would even be lower. Which brings us to the obvious problem: our fixation on illusory stats, “loopholes,” and the law-abiding — and not, say, on thugs in gun-control havens, like Chicago, who continue to reap gun havoc at an alarming rate.