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VICTOR JOECKS: Universal background checks didn’t reduce Clark County homicides

President Joe Biden is proposing universal background checks as part of his gun control agenda. But after Nevada Democrats imposed that policy, starting last January, Clark County homicides shot up dramatically.

Last Sunday, Biden described several pieces of gun control legislation he wants to see enacted. That list included universal background checks, banning so-called assault weapons and allowing people to sue gun manufacturers when someone uses their product inappropriately.

Those who follow Nevada politics should be familiar with the first item. In 2016, Nevada voters narrowly approved a universal background check initiative. The initiative, however, contained a drafting error that prevented it from going into effect.

In 2019, Democrats had full control in Carson City. One of the first things they did was pass universal background checks, fixing the drafting error in the initiative. They jammed the bill through in just five days. It was a highly compressed time frame for such a controversial bill brought so early in the session.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, just days before he resigned in disgrace for criminal campaign finance violations, sponsored the proposal. He shared two stories in which he asserted a background check law would have prevented a murder.

“States that require background checks have lower firearm homicide rates, lower gun trafficking rates and lower firearm suicide rates,” he said.

Gov. Steve Sisolak testified in favor of the bill, contending it would make it “more difficult for those with criminal backgrounds or severe mental illness to purchase a gun.”

Nevada’s background check law went into effect in January 2020. If it worked as intended, firearm murders should have dropped. They didn’t. Just the opposite.

In 2019, there were 144 homicides in Clark County, according to a Review-Journal review in January 2019. Of those victims, 98 people died from a gunshot wound.

In 2020, however, there were 195 homicides in Clark County, according to a Review-Journal report this January. Deaths from firearms jumped to 136. That’s a 38 percent increase.

So much for background checks lowering firearm homicides.

The FBI hasn’t released Nevada’s homicide data for 2020 yet. Because Clark County includes almost three-fourths of Nevada’s population, it’s fair to assume state data will show a similar pattern.

This isn’t to say that universal background checks caused the increase in homicides. It’s more likely the law had no effect either way. Here’s why.

It should go without saying that those willing to murder won’t obey a law regulating how they can obtain a gun. That means for universal background checks to be effective, the law must cut off their access to firearms. But if someone with a criminal record wants to commit a murder, he’s likely to already know where he can obtain a firearm illegally. If someone without a criminal record wants to commit a murder, a background check won’t flag him.

The war on drugs has run into a similar problem. Making something illegal — especially something that’s widely available, in high demand and relatively small — isn’t the same thing as eliminating someone’s ability to obtain it.

Here’s the double bind in which gun control proponents find themselves. If criminals followed the law, universal background checks wouldn’t be necessary. But because criminals don’t follow the law, universal background checks don’t stop them from obtaining firearms.

Universal background checks didn’t work in Nevada. If Biden succeeds in passing them nationally, expect similar results.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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