The Federal Government spends a billion dollars a year on federal gun laws. Most of that money is for enforcement, but some of it is to push state and local governments toward infringing on the Second Amendment, too. From FY 2015 Budget Fact Sheets U.S DOJ(pdf):
In 2013, the Administration proposed a range of legislative remedies – along with 23 executive actions – to address mass shootings and reduce gun violence. The Justice Department is working to implement a number of these actions and requests a total of $1.1 billion in FY 2015 to address violent gun crimes, which includes $182.4 million to support the President’s “Now is the Time” initiative.
Of the total $1.1 billion, $1.0 billion in federal law enforcement resources allows the Department to ensure those who are not eligible to purchase or possess guns are prevented from doing so, and $147.0 million is to help state and local governments continue to implement the Administration’s proposals for increasing firearms safety and supporting programs that help keep communities safe from mass casualty violence.
In support of enhancing gun safety, the Department has been working to strengthen the national background check system. For example, in January 2014, the Department proposed a rule to clarify the definition of persons prohibited from receiving, possessing, shipping, or transporting firearms for mental health reasons.
Additionally, the Department is working to strengthen national background checks by addressing gaps in the federal and state records currently available in NICS. Incomplete or insufficient records significantly hinder the ability of NICS to quickly confirm whether a prospective purchaser is prohibited from acquiring a firearm.
In FY 2015, the Department requests a total of $55.0 million in grant funding to further assist states in making more records available in NICS and improving the National Criminal History Improvement Program, and an increase of $13.4 million for the FBI to maintain the substantial improvements made to NICS in FY 2014.
No one is providing a cost:benefit ratio for this money. Most of it is simply wasted. The entire structure of GCA 1968 does little that’s beneficial. There is no indication that it actually stops crime in any measurable amount. It’s as likely to be detrimental as beneficial.
The number of guns per capita in the U.S.A has gone from .45 in 1968 to 1.18 today. Numerous studies have been done. None show measurable crime reduction as a result of the law. GCA 1968 was passed at the beginning of decades long spurt in violent crime. We have only returned to those long lost levels of civic peace in the last 25 years.
In 1968, the homicide rate was 6.9 per 100,000. It finally dropped to 6.8 per 100,000 in 1999. In the intervening 30 years, it reached a high of 10.2 in 1981, dropped a bit, came back to 9.8 in 1991, then started the long fall to present day rates, which are about the same as in the 1950s and before WWI, both of which times had either none, or nearly no federal gun control compared to today.
The NICS system does nothing measurably useful. There’s no reason to believe that the millions of dollars spent on running the system is even marginally cost effective. Of the few people who are turned away from purchasing guns (about 1.3% were denied in 2014), the vast majority were false positives or not worth any prosecutorial effort.
We have the convictions for 2010. Of about six million checks done on NICS, 76,142 were denied, at least temporarily. Of those denied, 13 were found guilty, 10 plead to a lesser charge, and 12 were pending.
About 30% of those that reached this level were dismissed by the prosecutor, so about 8 of those in process are likely to plead or be found guilty. That would be 31 convictions for a bit over 6 million instant checks. One conviction for about 200,000 checks.
A report from news21.com on background checks and mental illness illustrates the problem with the using the approach of attempting to prevent sales at the retail level:
Out of 23,292 individuals diagnosed with severe mental illnesses or committed to a mental institution, federal law would have disqualified only 7 percent from purchasing a gun, the study found. The majority of those studied never committed a crime, and most of those who did already had criminal records.
The final report concludes that the laws had a minimal impact on reducing gun violence.
“Background checks to enforce the federal mental health prohibitions — even if they are completely effective — will have a very small impact on overall crime in persons with serious mental illness,” according to the report. “Most of those at risk are unaffected by the law.”
The costs of the NICS program is about 100 million dollars a year. That was estimated for 2014, when there were about 21 million checks done. From FBI.gov:
For over a decade, the FBI has been responsible for determining a person’s eligibility to possess a firearm at the point of purchase from a Federal Firearms Licensees.
The number of checks has grown over 200 percent since NICS was implemented in 1998. Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school on December 14, 2012, and subsequent discussions of potential changes in gun laws, the FBI’s workload has skyrocketed.
Before the shooting, the busiest week in NICS history was the week of December 3-9, 2012, when 527,095 firearms checks were initiated. The week following the shooting, December 17-23, 2012, NICS volumes approached one million transactions and continue to exceed historical peak volume.
In fact, the first six full weeks in 2013 are among the top 10 busiest weeks in NICS history. Because of this increased workload, the FBI has required NICS personnel to cancel all leave, work mandatory overtime shifts, forego other critical tasks, such as appeals and audits, and has shifted personnel from other program areas to provide assistance.
Without a permanent addition to personnel, facility space, and technology improvements, national security and public safety are at risk, as the current FBI staff will be unable to provide timely and accurate determination of a person’s eligibility to possess firearms and/or explosives in accordance with federal law.
Therefore, the FY 2014 budget requests 524 positions and $100 million to increase the ability to process mandated background checks for firearm purchases.
The NICS program is a horrendous waste of money and police resources, precisely because its efforts are focused on the 99.9% of people who are not a problem.
The cost per instant check is about $5. The six million instant checks in 2010 resulted in about 31 convictions, at the cost of about $1 million dollars per conviction, merely for the instant checks. That cost does not count the time wasted by gun store staff, the time spent filling out paperwork, and the time wasted by customers.
One million dollars is enough to put seven full time quality police officers on the street for a year for every conviction. If those officers were dedicated to insuring that dangerous convicted felons who possess guns were sent to prison, many more convictions would result. A retired LEO source tells me that 15-20 convictions a year would be reasonable. At a minimum, that is 100 times as cost effective.
That sort of emphasis was done with Project Exile and similar programs. The results were homicide rate reductions of 20%-50% in high crime areas. If you want to save lives, stop funding ineffective federal gun programs focused on legal gun ownership, and concentrate on putting dangerous prohibited possessors in prison.
For those whose answer to every cost benefit ratio is “We do not have to be limited, we can do both!” you’re wrong. Resources have been and always will be limited. We should always strive for the best cost-to-benefit ratio.
Gun control programs aimed at the peaceful many have always had horrible cost-to-benefit ratios. Chief Constable Colin Greenwood, who first studied the issue at Cambridge in 1972, found the same thing. Federal gun control laws are ineffective, costly and intrusive. They are based on failed theories and a false understanding of the dynamics involved. The programs should be eliminated.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Gun Watch
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