The past few months have seen no shortage of puff pieces for referendum I-594, the “universal background check initiative”, in Washington state. While less egregious than some of the drivel recently published by the Seattle Times, our most recent piece comes from Channel 7 KIRO-TV in Seattle. The article is linked below, but we will also break down some of the key points here.
According to the King County Superior Court, Thirty-nine year old Michael Ahmed Hicks has been charged with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm. These charges stemmed from a recent attempt by the felon to purchase a handgun from popular online dealer, GrabAGun.com. As is the case with any online/mail-order firearms transaction, the handgun was shipped to a local dealer for transfer. When Hicks arrived at the federal firearms licensee (FFL, or dealer), he completed a Form 4473 (background check paperwork) and the dealer called in his info as the second piece of the routine check. Unsurprisingly, his previous criminal record put a quick end to the transaction and Hicks left without the handgun.
In a surprising twist of events, the Seattle Police Department actually followed up on his denial. Those familiar with Second Amendment issues will undoubtedly understand that very few of these denials actually lead to arrests, even though lying on the Form 4473 is itself a felony. Last week, Hicks was arrested.
Perhaps more telling than Hick’s stupidity in this case is what police found when they searched his home. According to court documents, police secured a “sawed-off” shotgun, multiple switchblades, swords, crossbows, and “flammable devices”. While details are unsurprisingly scant on the shotgun, it is possible that Hicks violated at least two federal laws in possessing it. The first and most obvious is Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a felon. However, having apparently been “sawed-off” it is also possible that Hicks unlawfully possessed an NFA firearm (some good the NFA does, huh?). This of course completely ignores the other dangerous and completely unregulated devices in Hicks’ Seattle home.
So how is all of this relevant to I-584? Readers out there in the Pacific Northwest will likely recognize that KIRO-TV has emphasized that the gun was purchased online by a felon. Supporters of I-594 have repeatedly misrepresented online firearm sales as some sort of Silk Road-esque black market dirty deals. In reality, quite the opposite is true. Massive and highly professional online retailers such as GrabAGun make thousands of sales per year, all of which are subject to federal background checks. Online firearm sales are the farthest thing from the back alley deals that many gun-control advocates would have you believe they are. Fortunately, KIRO-TV did point out that the background check was a required portion of the transaction, but they failed to mention that this is standard procedure for virtually all online sales.
Another point to consider is how do gun-control advocates intend to prevent Hicks from obtaining the “sawed-off” shotgun? Given his record, there is no way he purchased the firearm from a licensed dealer as he would have failed the background check as he did when purchasing the handgun last month. This leaves only two possibilities. The first is that police failed to search his home and confiscate the firearm when he was arrested back in 2006 for methamphetamine possession. This would indicate a massive enforcement failure and one that is more common than many of us probably want to accept. The second, and maybe more likely scenario is that Hicks purchased the shotgun from another unsavory individual after his 2006 conviction. These are the sorts of transactions that proponents of “universal background checks” feel they can prevent with new laws. Unfortunately, evidence does not bear this out.
One of the biggest challenges when attempting to prevent these kinds of transfers is that it is impossible to prove that the exchange did not occur prior to the new law’s implementation. Tracking the hundreds of millions of firearms in private hands across the country is beyond impractical and no gun owner, much less any criminal, is going to jump to register his firearms. The second major issue is that empirical evidence does not support the belief that such laws will actually make any difference in terms of gun-related homicide rates, much less overall homicide numbers. Per FBI statistics, states that already have licensing and registration schemes such as Illinois, New York, and New Jersey have gun-related homicide rates that are near the middle compared to other states. Stringent licensing and mandatory background checks have not transformed these left-leaning states into bastions of public safety, just as I-594 will not change the nature of crime in Washington.
While I-594 may seem like “common sense”, reality suggests that it is most assuredly a stubborn exercise in overwhelming futility.
FBI UCR Crime Statistics: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10tbl20.xls