Why Background Checks Don't Block Gun Sales

Colorado's new universal background-check program blocked ten sales in its first month, and the debate is mostly over whether ten is a lot or a little.

I'd just like to reiterate a point I've made before: Actually blocking sales is not the point of background checks. In order for a sale to be blocked, a prohibited buyer needs to willingly fill out the paperwork for a gun purchase and have it run through the system. Doing this is incredibly stupid, so it almost never happens. When it does happen, it's usually because the person didn't realize he was prohibited. (For example, his crime was a long time ago, or he was dishonorably discharged from the military.) Prosecutions rarely result.

Rather, the point of background checks is to close off certain avenues to criminals -- they're never denied purchases becaues they don't try, knowing that if they tried they'd be denied. It's very difficult to measure how often this happens and how many of these people end up finding guns elsewhere, but the simple fact that few sales are blocked isn't evidence that checks are ineffective.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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