President Obama is taking a big step towards creating a national gun registry. Hawaii looks like it is about to provide the federal government with the list of all the gun owners in the state. Supposedly, keeping a list of gun owners’ names will enable the FBI to tell police if a gun owner ever gets arrested.
But a national gun registry isn’t necessary to do this check. The FBI isn’t the only organization that can do background checks on already existing gun owners. Hawaii already has a gun registry, and can regularly run its list of names to see if people have gotten arrested.
Some concealed carry states do that for their concealed handgun permit holders. For example, Kentucky checks its list of permit holders every month.
Hawaii is going to pay for entering the names in the new federal registry by charging gun owners a new fee. But, even if this registration reduced crime, it would hardly be just the gun owners who have registered their guns who would be the only ones who benefit. Economics would indicate that the people who benefit from this proposal should be the ones to pay for it.
If Hawaii officials really think that this will reduce crime for everyone and they aren’t just pushing this as a way to reduce gun ownership even further, they can pay for these checks out of general revenue.
This will undoubtedly be a waste of money. Out of all the guns owned in the US, just hundredths of one percent are used in committing crimes, and the rate that registered guns are used in crimes is a tiny fraction of that. For concealed handgun permit holders the revocation rate for any firearms related violation is thousandths of one percent, and almost all of those are trivial, nonviolent offenses.
Gun control advocates have long claimed that gun registration will help solve crime. Their reasoning is straightforward: If a registered gun is left at a crime scene, it can be used to identify the criminal.
Unfortunately, it rarely works out this way. Criminals seldom make the mistake of leaving behind guns that are registered to themselves. In the few cases where registered guns are left at the scene, it is because the criminals have already been killed or injured. And these guns are virtually never registered to the person who committed the crime.
Take Canada, which abolished its ineffective long gun registry in 2012. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Chiefs of Police did not provide even a single example of tracing being of more than peripheral importance to solving a case. There isn’t even any evidence that Canada’s handgun registry, commenced in 1934, has ever been important to solving a single homicide.
During a recent deposition, the DC police department could not “recall any specific instance where registration records were used to determine who committed a crime.”
When I testified before the Hawaii State Senate in 2000, the Honolulu Chief of Police also stated that he couldn’t find any crimes that had been solved thanks to registration and licensing. He also said that his officers spent about 50,000 hours each year on those two tasks. This time is being taken away from traditional law enforcement activities that we know really work.
Many people fear that the names in Hawaii’s gun registry will serve as the start of a federal, nationwide database. Americans in California, Connecticut, Chicago, and New York, have already seen how registration can eventually lead to the confiscation of guns.
Gun registration is just another example of gun-control advocates only looking at the benefits of gun control. But if they really want to reduce crime and save lives, we need to compare the very real costs of these laws with a careful view of their supposed benefits.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including “More Guns, Less Crime.” His latest book is “Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench” Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.