President Bill Clinton signs the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act
Since the enactment of the Brady law on March 1, 1994, through December 31, 2012, background checks blocked more than 2.4 million prohibited purchasers like domestic abusers, convicted felons, mentally ill persons, and other dangerous individuals from purchasing a firearm or receiving a permit to purchase or carry a firearm.
In 2012 alone, background checks blocked 192,043 prohibited persons from gaining access to firearms, including 82,000 felons or roughly 225 felons every day.
Statistics reported by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence confirm that background checks work and have had a significant positive impact on national crime rates. Before the Brady law was enacted, America’s gun homicide rate was on a dramatic rise, increasing by 55 percent from 1984 to 1993 even as non-gun homicides were falling over this period. After Brady background checks were required, however, gun murders began to steadily decline and ultimately fell by 32 percent from 1993 to 2006. The rate of robberies and aggravated assaults committed with firearms also decreased by 42 percent over this period.
However, the Brady law only requires background checks by federally licensed firearms dealers. Research has found that states with more expansive background check laws experience 48 percent less gun trafficking, 38 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults. States with universal background check requirements also have a 53 percent lower gun suicide rate, and a 31 percent lower overall suicide rate than states without these laws. This correlation is unchanged even after controlling for the effects of poverty, population density, age, education, and race/ethnicity. After controlling for these variables, universal background checks were associated with 22% fewer suicides and 35% fewer firearm suicides per capita.
One state has also provided a tragic case study in the importance of background checks in preventing gun violence and saving lives. In 2007, Missouri repealed its permit-to-purchase handgun licensing law, which had, since 1921, required all handgun purchasers to undergo a background check and obtain a license in order to lawfully purchase a handgun from any seller. This change eliminated mandatory background checks for handguns sold by private sellers in the state. Johns Hopkins researchers determined that repeal of Missouri’s background check requirement was linked to a 14% increase in Missouri’s murder rate through 2012 and a 25% percent increase in firearm homicide rates. These researchers estimated that in tragic human terms, the law’s repeal translated into an additional 49 to 68 murders every year. This spike in murders in Missouri only occurred for murders committed with a firearm and was widespread across the state’s counties. Meanwhile, none of the states bordering Missouri experienced significant increases in their murder rates, and the national murder rate actually declined during this period by over five percent. Other researchers confirmed that repeal of Missouri’s background check requirement was associated with a 16.1% increase in the state’s rate of firearm suicide.
Another state offers a sharp contrast with Missouri. In 1995, Connecticut implemented a permit-to-purchase handgun licensing law which required applicants to pass a background check in order to purchase a handgun from any seller. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a study in the American Journal of Public Health in June 2015 in which they reported that Connecticut’s law was associated with a 40 percent reduction in the state’s firearm-related homicide rate. These researchers compared Connecticut’s homicide rates during the 10 years following the law’s implementation to the rates that would have been expected had the law not been implemented. The large drop in homicides was found only in firearm-related killings, not in homicides by other means, confirming that this law drove the reduction in the state’s overall homicide rates. Additionally, other researchers found that Connecticut’s Permit to Purchase handgun law was associated with a 15.4% reduction in firearm suicides.