Background Checks REALLY Do Work

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by Bob Adelmann

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Far be it from me to disagree with such a worthy as Star Parker, a famed conservative journalist and activist (in a good sense) who often writes at But her latest on how background checks don’t work, can’t work, and are a complete waste of time, is flat dead wrong.

Background checks work just fine.

It depends on how you define “work just fine.” Bear with me.

Following the horrific Virginia Tech shooting in April of 2007 a bill was proposed to expand the information captured and gathered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) concerning mental problems. Bush signed it into law in January 2008, which spent $1.3 billion of taxpayer monies to enable the states to broaden their database. Commentators opined that “if only the law had been in force earlier, then Virginia Tech would never have happened.” According to Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a co-sponsor of that bill, it would “close the wide gaps in our nation’s firearm background-check system to ensure [that] violent criminals and the mentally ill no longer slip through the cracks and gain access to dangerous weapons.”

Let’s take a fast look at McCarthy’s background just to confirm that she really has our best interests at heart here. According to Wikipedia McCarthy “is one of the nation’s most vocal gun control advocates.” She introduced legislation requiring trigger locks on guns. She offered a bill to keep foreign visitors to the US from acquiring firearms here. She wants guns to be “child-proof” and wants to ban all gun shows. When the Clinton gun law expired in 2004 she was first in line to want to renew it.

She is probably best known for her lack of knowledge about those “assault” weapons she so despises. Here’s this from Wiki:

On the April 18, 2007, episode of MSNBC’s program Tucker, Tucker Carlson interviewed McCarthy about the Virginia Tech massacre and her proposed reauthorization of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. He asked her to explain the need to regulate barrel shrouds, one of the many provisions included in her bill. She did not directly respond, instead stating it was more important that the legislation would ban large capacity “clips” (sic) of the type used in the Virginia Tech massacre and that the class of guns chosen prohibited by the law were those used by gangs and killers of police officers. That statement was factually incorrect; Cho’s largest magazines held fifteen rounds, thus making them legal under the AWB. When Carlson pressed her twice more on the question about barrel shrouds, she admitted that she did not know what a barrel shroud was, and incorrectly stated, “I believe it is a shoulder thing that goes up.” (my emphasis)

But she knows that guns are evil and that people shouldn’t be allowed to possess them.

Senator Charles Schumer is in the same camp. He sponsored the original Clinton gun ban, as Wiki also explains:

While serving in the House of Representatives, Schumer, along with California Senator Dianne Feinstein, authored the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban which expired in 2004. The National Rifle Association and other gun groups  have criticized him for allegedly not knowing much about guns, pointing to various errors regarding the subject.

Supporters of gun control legislation, however, give him much of the credit for passage of both the Assault Weapons Ban and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The Assault Weapons Ban, which banned semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns possessing certain cosmetic features, expired in September 2004 despite attempts by Schumer to extend it.

He was one of 16 Senators to vote against the Vitter Amendment, which prohibited the confiscation of legally owned firearms during a disaster.

So if background checks don’t work, as Parker suggests, why do these anti-gun zealots push for them?

Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter wouldn’t have been picked up on that radar as he took the weapon from his mother. James Q. Wilson noted that even with background check laws in place, “access to guns would [still] be relatively easy … many would be stolen and others would be obtained through straw purchases by a willing confederate.”

Here’s why: how does one define “mentally ill?” It is loosely defined as “a psychological pattern or anomaly, potentially reflected in behavior, that is generally associated with distress or disability, and which is not considered part of normal development in a person’s culture. Mental disorders are generally defined by a combination of how a person feels, acts, thinks or perceives.”

And just who determines that pattern or anomaly, pray tell? We find the chilling answer from an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry: “It has been found that most clinicians evaluate patients using an unstructured, open-ended approach, with limited training in evidence-based assessment methods, and that inaccurate diagnosis may be common in routine practice.”

This, in my opinion, is why zealots are pushing for background checks. Unskilled practitioners can keep ordinary law-abiding citizens from owning guns by the mere suggestion that they might have, or have had in the distant past, some mental problems. That’s an opportunity that Schumer and McCarthy can’t resist seizing.

Background checks do work, if one’s purpose is to keep innocent citizens from owning guns.


A graduate of Cornell University and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently at, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at

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