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:

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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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Insurance Companies Hesitant to Cover Schools with Armed Guards

After the school shooting Newton last December, the NRA’s proposed policy solution to help make schools more secure was to add armed guards to each location. At first blush, the argument made sense: at sporting events, concerts and nearly every other public gathering, armed security is present. Why not at schools?

The answer soon became clear. Students feel less safe when armed guards are around and it inhibits their learning. In addition, it’s unclear whether those guards even help reduce crime. The NRA was proposing a massive investment in beefed up security that hurt students’ learning and had an uncertain effect on crime. Upon further review, it didn’t seem like a very good policy.

Well, a New York Times article today splashes even more cold water on the proposal:

As more schools consider arming their employees, some districts are encountering a daunting economic hurdle: insurance carriers threatening to raise their premiums or revoke coverage entirely.

The insurer of 90% of Kansas school districts has said it will deny coverage to any school that allows any personnel to carry a concealed gun. Many other insurers are close to following suit and schools that can’t find coverage will open themselves up to huge amounts of liability. It will force them to forego armed guards in order to retain insurance coverage.

Effectively, what insurers are saying is that adding armed guards to schools increases the risk of costly injury and thus requires higher premiums. In Kansas, the main insurer, EMC Insurance Companies, is saying that the potential costs are so high that it can’t provide any coverage at all. Through these policies, insurers are communicating that this policy makes schools less safe, not more.

So now that insurers have spoken out and the NRA’s proposed policy is technically unfeasible, what else do they propose to make our schools more secure?

Presidential Leadership is a Myth

Ezra Klein writes in Wonkbook today about why gun control measures with mass support (90% of Americans support background checks) can’t pass through Congress:

If public opinion remains this uninformed despite overwhelming media coverage of the issue, the president’s aggressive use of the bully pulpit, and the focusing power of a national tragedy, then that suggests public opinion can’t effectively be leveraged even in extremely favorable circumstances. These results don’t explain the fluke status of gun control. They explain why majority support is a reliably weak predictor of congressional action.

As Klein goes on to say, much of the Washington press still operates as if Obama has not used the bully pulpit enough. You often hear this in the form of him not showing enough  “leadership.” But this is just a flawed way of looking at how D.C. works. The President has given more than a dozen, heartfelt speeches since Newtown on gun control. He’s put in calls to Congress and sent Vice President Biden to the hill to lobby for stricter gun control measures. What else can he do? What power does the bully pulpit have when in the face of a national tragedy and an overwhelming majority demanding action, the President can give speech after speech with nothing to show for it? The answer is none. Presidential leadership is just code for blaming each party equally, when only one is to blame.