NRA Video on I-594

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The NRA has put out a video about I-594.

My thoughts on the video's claims:

  • I-594 does mostly go after legitimate behavior by law-abiding citizens, and will not affect criminals in any way
  • there is no strong evidence that the goal of I-594 is collecting data on gun owners, but there will be more records of more gun transactions collected by the state
  • we are not currently punishing people who try to pass a background check, and fail due to criminal conviction
  • most sales online go through dealers which require background checks, but some sales are in-state and can be conducted in-person without a background check
  • all gun show sales participants have had background checks at many, if not most, gun shows
  • the private seller/transferror of a gun may take the gun with him during a waiting period or background check, contrary to the video's implication (Sec. 3, 3.a: "the unlicensed seller or transferor may remove the firearm from the business premises of the licensed dealer while the background check is being conducted"); I think the conversation in the video is actually about when the gun is being loaned to someone, then returned back; the borrower of the gun is now the transferror, so the original owner still has to wait while the dealer or borrower keeps the gun
  • it is true that I-594 prohibits lending a gun to your buddy to go hunting, without going through the backgound check process, unless the loan happens "while hunting"; so the transferror needs to be hunting with the borrower Sec. 3, 4.f.v)
  • it is simply incorrect that I-594 requires a background check to temporarily transfer your gun to your friend at a gun range, as long as it is authorized by government for that purpose (Sec. 3, 4.f.ii: " This section does not apply to ... the temporary transfer of a firearm ... if the temporary transfer occurs, and the firearm is kept at all times, at an established shooting range authorized by the governing body of the jurisdiction in which such range is located. ...")
  • it is absoultely false that I-594 would in any way restrict a father handing his guns to his son (Sec. 3, 4.a: "This section does not apply to ... (a) transfer between immediate family members ... [including] parents, children ... that is a bona fide gift")
  • it is generally illegal, under the text of I-594, to merely hand the gun over to someone else's control; and it is jailable, up to a year, for the first offense

So I-594 is bad, but the NRA video about it is bad, too. It's right on most of the major points, but makes some significant claims that are wrong.

Anti-Gun Activists Hates Your Mom

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As I reported back in January, Initiative 594 is really a stupid bill. Not only does it literally do nothing to keep anyone any safer -- there is no evidence showing any correlation between universal background checks for gun transfers and reduced gun violence -- but it also significantly impedes on normal law-abiding gun activity, such as letting other responsible adults borrow, or even hold, your guns.

Literally and explicitly, the initiative makes it illegal for you to hand your gun to another person under most circumstances. There are exceptions, such as for educating a minor, or in order to save the life of the person to whom the gun is transferred (but not to save anyone else: just themselves). If your mother is in your home and she is thinking of buying a handgun like yours, though, you can't hand your unloaded gun to her so she can examine it. Because, you know, she might hold up a liquor store with it or go shoot up a local elementary school.

So even if you want universal background checks for gun sales, I-594 is just a stupid implementation of it. There's no defending it on these points, and as such, even anti-gun folks should oppose it. It is abandoning all reason to pretend it is reasonable to require a background check virtually every time a gun literally moves from my hands to another adult's.

But even from the gun sales perspective, there's no serious reasons to think it will result in any positive benefits to anyone. People who think otherwise are generally being lied to: for example, "Everytown For Gun Safety" claims that out of 1 in 10 people seeking to buy guns through "online unlicensed sales" in Washington, is someone who could not pass a background check.

How could they know this? Well, obviously, they can't, and they don't. They looked at 1,164 "want to buy" gun ads online, identified 81 (6.96%) of the individuals who placed the ads, and found 8 (0.69% of 1,164, 9.88% of 81) people who would have failed a background check. That's their data.

These anti-gun folks made two major false assumptions, and offered a major false implication.

First, that the 8 people either represents or underrepresents the actual population of people who want to buy guns through these "online unlicensed sales". They make some reasonable arguments for why it might underrepresent the population, but they cannot demonstrate it at all, so it cannot be counted as evidence. Worse, the data is not even representative of the population: the 8 positive matches from an 81-member sample has a confidence interval of +/-10.5 points at a 95% confidence level, which means we can be 95% certain the actual percentage is between -0.62% and 20.38%. So it's not "1 in 10," it's actually somewhere between "-1 in 10" and "3 in 10" ... which is just nonsense.

Second, they falsely assume that these "online unlicensed sales" are legal, and would thus be impacted by a new law requiring background checks. If the seller is a criminal (for example, selling a stolen gun), he will not care about this new law. He'll sell it anyway.

Third, they falsely imply that the sample of people who want to buy represents the people who actually buy. This pretty well goes without saying -- which is why in their printed matter, they emphasize that these people are only seeking guns, not actually buying them -- but it renders their actual argument useless. If 1 in 10 who want to buy legally may not, but they account for only 1 in 500 of purchasers, doesn't that change the argument for universal background checks significantly, and maybe even nullify it?

And further, even if the new law would actually have the effect of stopping these specific sales to illegal buyers, those buyers would not necessarily be prevented from buying a gun, simply because there's so many ways to get a gun illegally that this law won't impact.

Arguably, this is all the wrong data to be looking at anyway. Yes, we want to keep people who cannot legally own guns from owning them. But it seems to me that the more important information is about where guns come from when they are used in crimes, and the only data I've ever seen shows that only a tiny portion of these come from legal sales to illegal buyers, most likely because such sales are likely to be documented and traceable and will have an eyewitness (the seller) who can identify the purchaser, so someone with criminal intent is unlikely to go this route, again, because there's so many ways to get a gun illegally (and such illegal transfers account for a much, much larger portion of the guns used in crimes).

I do not, and would not, argue that we should not have a law to stop illegal activity just because that law won't work very well. I argue, rather, that if a law will not significantly impact the illegal activity it says it is designed for, but that law does significantly impact the valid exercise of constitutional rights, then that law is obviously a bad law. And that's what we have in I-594.

<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."