Nicholas DeSimone works in public policy for Reason Foundation in Washington D.C. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and has written for Reason Foundation, Townhall.com and Penn Political Review. Follow him on Twitter: @nickyd8181
Every recent measure from the Democrat’s plan to ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles to Congressman Thomas Massie’s plan to repeal the Federal Gun-Free School Zone Act and even President Trump’s plans to arm teachers in schools and implement stricter background checks for mental illness have been suggested to prevent individuals from committing mass shootings.
While the background check system has prevented individuals from illegally obtaining guns from licensed dealers, the gun show loophole can allow individuals to purchase guns from unlicensed dealers. Attempts to close this loophole have been made in 19 states and Washington D.C. by requiring background checks on all handgun sales. However, guns, including the AR-15 are still widely accessible through unlicensed dealers.
The majority of guns used in 19 recent mass shootings were bought legally, with some of these individuals—possessing a history mental illness—able to pass federal background checks to purchase guns. Logic would follow that by making background checks stricter this would prevent people who have mental illnesses from illegally obtaining guns.
Let’s assume that all gun show loopholes are closed and we rely on stricter background checks for mental illness, as suggested by gun control advocates. There are few concerns with this.
First, what types mental disorders would prevent a person from owning a gun: depression, acute stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or anxiety/panic disorder? All of these mental illnesses have one thing in common; they all rely on self-report for accuracy so when determining who is classified to have one of these mental disorders there’s much room for inaccuracies.
Additionally, if a person is not properly diagnosed as having a mental disorder, doctors could be held liable. This would only prompt doctors to over diagnose people as having mental disorders to avoid any legal or social ramifications, which would begin to raise questions once law-abiding citizens get denied access to firearms.
Furthermore, it’s possible that a person may be able to recover from anyone of these mental disorders and resume a normal, healthy functioning life free of mental illness. Will these individuals then be able to ever purchase firearms to protect themselves or their families?
Second, one way to avoid failing a background check for mental illness: don’t initially seek treatment. It’s that simple. If someone has future plans to purchase firearms and is aware of stricter background checks, they’ll just avoid seeking treatment altogether.
If that weren’t enough to demonstrate the ease to which people could avoid background checks, the free market’s ability to circumvent gun control has shown that innovation will enable just about anyone to be able to manufacturer guns in the comfort of their own home with or without a mental illness, with or without the gun show loophole.
Some people assume that effective mass shootings have to be committed by the popularized AR-15 but two handguns can be just as effective at mass shootings in close proximity to crowds of people. With 3D printing of guns becoming more sophisticated, handguns have never been more accessible. Defense Distributed’s Cody Wilson developed a machine called the Ghost Gunner, which can mill out unfinished metal handgun frames that only need a digital file that is freely shared on the Internet and the machine sells for under $1,700.
Stricter background checks and closing gun show loopholes will not prevent individuals from obtaining guns and committing mass shootings. These “safeguards” are easily avoidable, especially as technology progresses. Today, all you need is a machine, a digital file and a few parts from the hardware store and any gun control effort is rendered virtually useless.