After every mass shooting, politicians say they want the same thing: universal background checks.
Pretty much every American believes in doing this: preventing people with dangerous backgrounds (criminal records, hospitalizations for mental illness, addiction, etc.) from getting firearms. But background checks aren’t actually good at doing this.
After California expanded background checks in 1991, researchers at Johns Hopkins found the law was “not associated with changes in firearm suicide or homicide.”
What does work is gun licensing.
It’s already in effect in 12 states and DC. In Massachusetts, you first have to take a firearm safety course then submit a permit application at a police department. They directly check local law enforcement and mental health agencies, contact references, and run your fingerprints.
It’s a real, thorough background check. So it reliably keeps guns away from the same people background checks attempt to filter out.
The process also takes about three weeks. Background checks take an average of 108 seconds. If someone is going through a suicidal episode or is a domestic abuser without a record, they could get a gun very quickly and harm themselves or others. With licensing, that person would be delayed and possibly deterred from getting a gun.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that when Connecticut established a licensing law in 1995, it was associated with a 40 percent drop in gun homicides and a 15 percent drop in gun suicides. Missouri had a licensing law for decades but repealed it in 2007. That change was associated with a 17 to 27 percent increase in gun homicides and a 16 percent increase in gun suicides.
Background checks are supposed to stop bad people from getting guns, but they often don’t. Licensing picks up that slack.