Conservative Pundits Echo NRA's Highly Unpopular Background Check Stance

While polling has consistently shown that nearly all Americans support requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale, some conservatives in the media are writing in opposition to expanding background checks, a position also held by the National Rifle Association.

A January 23 Gallup poll indicates that 91 percent of Americans would vote for a law that required a criminal background check on every gun sale. Only eight percent of respondents would vote against such a law. As ThinkProgress notes, this polling indicates that opposition to strengthening background checks is less popular than human cloning, polygamy and the perennially unpopular Congress.

[ThinkProgress, accessed 1/30/13]

In recent columns, Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, MSNBC host S.E. Cupp and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich all expressed opposition to expanding background checks, even as research demonstrates that a significant proportion of firearms are sold and purchased without a check. 

In a New York Daily News column, Cupp quoted the faulty logic of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who said before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30  that checks should not be strengthened “because criminals will never submit to them,” before worrying about the “psychological” impact of background checks on gun purchasers.

Ultimately, Cupp compared criminal background checks -- the vast majority of which are completed in seconds -- to Arizona's infamous SB 1070 immigration law:

But even though we accept background checks as a necessary preemptive measure, there is a real psychological and cultural impact when law-abiding gun owners are routinely treated en masse like suspects.


If it sounds silly to worry about the hurt feelings of gun owners, let me point out that liberals are both familiar and comfortable with this argument. Arizona's so-called “papers please” law, which allowed law enforcement officials to determine an individual's immigration status during a lawful stop, barred the use of racial profiling as the sole basis for investigating immigration status. But that didn't stop liberal critics of SB 1070 from insisting it was offensive, prejudicial and unfairly treated minorities as if they were criminals. 

In her January 30 editorial titled, “The gun-show loophole myth,” Miller downplayed the number of firearms sold without a background check and baselessly claimed that “The gun grabbers' real goal has always been universal registration, and tracking every gun owner in the country would be a big step in that direction.” In fact, federal law mandates that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System destroys all identifying information about gun owners by the next business day.

In defense of the view that private sales with no background check do not constitute a significant share of gun transactions, both Miller and Pavlich cited recent claims by discredited gun researcher John Lott. Lott, who is notorious for changing statistical models to reach his desired result, attacked the conclusion of a 1994 study that showed between 30 and 40 percent of firearms transactions occur without a background check by offering his own interpretation of the data. One of the study's authors, Jens Ludwig, stands by his original research.

Even setting the outdated 1994 study aside, other evidence indicates that private sales constitute a significant proportion of gun transactions. A 2012 analysis conducted by the Michigan state police found that nearly half of all handguns were sold without a background check in that state. Data from a National Shooting Sports Foundation survey of gun owners determined that about 50 percent of respondents purchased their assault rifle from a venue where a background check was not necessarily required including from gun shows or over the Internet.

Criminals are even more likely to take advantage of loopholes in the background check system. A 2004 survey of prison inmates found that only 11 percent obtained the handgun they used in a crime from a licensed dealer.

In her Townhall column, Pavlich offered another falsehood about expanding background checks by broadly excerpting and encouraging her audience to read a column by past NRA president Marion Hammer that falsely claims that legislation to expand background checks would mean “having to do a background check on your own mom before you could give her one of your guns for protection.” In fact, the proposed legislation includes common-sense exemptions for family members and temporary transfers of firearms for hunting or self-defense purposes.