“For Every Complex Problem…

…there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” – H.L. Mencken

The latest is touted in an article in New ScientistCould three gun laws cut US firearm deaths by 90 per cent? What are these three laws?

  • Close the “gun show loophole” – that is, ban private sales of firearms.
  • Require background checks on ammunition purchases. 
  • Use “‘fingerprinting’ technology that allows a bullet to be traced back to the weapon that fired it.”

The article insists that a study performed “with no funding” by Bindu Kalesan, adjunct Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Boston University and her colleagues came up with this list after collecting

data on firearm deaths between 2008 and 2010, as well as information from 25 state laws and unemployment levels.

While most laws they studied appeared to be ineffective:

Three laws did seem to lower gun deaths, however. Extending background checks to cover the purchase of ammunition, bringing in background checks on private sales, and using “fingerprinting” technology that allows a bullet to be traced to the weapon that fired it, all seem to be linked to a significant reduction in mortality. “If we implemented these laws at the federal level, firearm mortality would drop by 90 per cent,” says Kalesan.

Wow. That’s quite a prediction!

So far, to my knowledge, only the first law has been implemented anywhere. Background checks on ammo purchases? Where? I know some jurisdictions (*cough*Illinois*cough*) require a Firearm Owner ID card for ammo purchases, but a background check on each purchase?  People freak out now when they hear someone has a thousand rounds of anything.  Implement this law and that would be the minimum purchase by most, just to alleviate the hassle. And the only attempts at “ballistic fingerprinting” have been on cartridge cases from handguns, and they’ve been an abject failure.  Microstamping and serial numbers on projectiles?  Not bloody likely.

Let’s look at these in turn.

  • No more private sales

How do you go about enforcing that?  We have upwards of 300 million privately owned firearms, the vast majority of which are not registered with any governmental body.  Nobody knows who owns what.  Just making it illegal to give or sell your Smith & Wesson Model 19 to your cousin doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.  Who would know the difference?  If the .gov doesn’t know what you own, how could they know you sold it?

  • Background checks for ammunition purchases

This one is what I like to call “academic overconfidence.” It’s obvious these people have no idea the sheer volume of ammunition sales that occur in the U.S. Annual production of .22 Long Rifle ammo alone is estimated to be in excess of two BILLION rounds.  Seen much on store shelves recently?  There is a Federal Excise tax on all firearms and ammunition sold in the U.S.  See this graphic for some feel of the scale of the problem:

 photo Excise Tax.jpg
And that tax is on the wholesale price, not the retail price. We keep hearing that there have been record numbers of NICS (FBI background) checks month-on-month and they want to add ammunition to this already nearly overwhelmed system?  What about reloading components? And the same problem as the “no private sales” above exists – how do you know that someone didn’t just resell the ammo? How are they supposed to prove that they didn’t take it out in the desert and shoot it all?

And, finally,

  • “Ballistic Fingerprinting”

I’m not going to rehash my previous technical dissertation on why the IBIS system doesn’t (and can’t) work, but this is another of those technological pipe-dreams that academics just love. Short version:

  1. There’s already 300+ million guns in circulation that there are no “ballistic fingerprints” for.
  2. “Ballistic fingerprints” – that the Brady Center insists are “unique as human fingerprints” – aren’t. 
  3. Under ideal laboratory conditions the system fails to identify the firearm the cartridge was fired from the overwhelming majority of the time.  In the real world, it has never worked.
  4. Even if you could get a match, how do you find the gun if you don’t know who owns it?

What do these three proposals require to have any hope of success, much less a 90% reduction in gunshot mortality?

Universal firearm registration – the absolute prerequisite to eventual confiscation.  You’ll note that “registration” isn’t mentioned in the article.

You have to wonder why that is, don’t you?

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