Universal Background Checks Are a Good Idea

I apologize in advance for writing this so soon after yesterday’s tragic shooting at the Navy Base. But there’s one conservative argument on gun control, professed on Twitter repeatedly by National Review’s Charles Cooke, that I have to address.

Here are a couple of Cooke’s tweets from yesterday evening the infuriated me:

cooke 2

First, of course all these mass shooters pass background checks or find a way around the system. Any person who fails a background check and doesn’t circumvent the system doesn’t become a mass shooter, because they don’t get a gun. And you know what they also don’t do? They don’t show up at the local police station or research institution and declare that if not for failing a background check, they would’ve gone on a shooting rampage. This means there aren’t any news stories about background checks preventing homicides, but we do have academic evidence on their effectiveness. And guess what the evidence says? Background checks help prevent shootings.

Second, background checks did not stop today’s shooter. That’s a fact. But just because a background check didn’t prevent today’s tragedy, that doesn’t mean a background check won’t prevent a future one. No one is saying that universal background checks are going to stop all shootings or even most shootings. But they could make a difference on the margin. Given that both the compliance costs and infringement on freedom are tiny, that marginal difference is worth it.

Cooke advocates enforcing current laws, something that could’ve stopped yesterday’s shooter. Absolutely. I 100 percent agree. But that shouldn’t be the end of gun control. Background checks work and they are minimally intrusive. Just because they couldn’t have stopped yesterday’s shooting doesn’t mean they aren’t a good idea.


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