Compliance with Universal Background Check Gun Laws
11 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2020 Last revised: 24 Jul 2020
Date Written: April 9, 2020
State laws mandating background checks require that persons seeking to acquire a firearms undergo a background check for a record of criminal convictions and for other statuses at high risk of future violence. A few states have enacted laws extending these checks to cover gun transfers among private persons, not just those involving licensed gun dealers. That is, they provide for so-called “universal background checks” (UBCs). The same kind of law has been proposed at the federal level. The effectiveness of UBCs is dependent on how many people seeking to acquire a gun from a private party comply with the required background check. Colorado and Oregon provide publicly available data on the numbers of background checks, data that distinguish checks on attempted private transfers from checks on dealer transfers. Combined with estimates of total private gun acquisitions (with or without checks), these data indicate that only 10.6% of private transfers in Colorado in 2019 and 3.5% of those in Oregon in 2017 were subjected to a state-mandated background check. Compliance among those trying to get a gun via a private transfer appears to be low, which should temper expectations for the impact of UBCs on firearms acquisition by prohibited persons.
Keywords: universal background checks, gun control
JEL Classification: K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation