At present, when a background check is performed before purchasing a gun, the only thing that needs to be looked for is a criminal history. Some states go further and check for a history of restraining orders, mental illness, fugitive status and misdemeanors. This allowed researchers Bisakha Sen and Anantachai Panjamapiron to conduct a study looking at the effects of more comprehensive background checks. The original study can be found at the link, but the paper is nicely summarized by Al.com (short for Alabama), these are two University of Alabama-Birmingham professors, by Mike Oliver.
The UAB study looked at state-level homicide and suicide data from 1996 to 2005 in addition to what kind of background information was required for gun purchases in those states.
The researchers found that states with specific checks for restraining orders, mental illness, fugitive status and misdemeanors – items which would be considered in a higher level of background checking – are associated with a 7 percent reduction in homicides and a 2 percent reduction in suicides.
Their study was comprehensive enough that they could look to see if death from other causes, say stabbings, increased to offset fewer gun deaths.
Sen said they found that the more comprehensive the background check was and the longer the states had been doing those comprehensive checks, the fewer homicides and suicides. Sen said researchers check to see if there might be an upward tick in other type of homicides, such as people killed with knives, but that was not the case.
Sen’s research suggests that any kind of background checks is better than none, but the more detailed the better.
Being a good researcher, Sen notes……
However, we strongly emphasize that these results are preliminary, and that more research is needed to establish whether these results are causal. Specifically, there are several underlying confounders that this study cannot account for.
However, we know that research into gun issues has mostly stopped since federal funding has been restricted by Congress. That makes it unlikely there will be follow up on this study. While many people suggested that the problem with some of our recent killings was not guns, but rather mentally unstable people using guns to kill, I think it unlikely that will convince the special interest groups that we should then look for signs of trouble prior to a gun purchase. I predict we will not see expanded background checks. Stopping research that could help lower the incidence of these deaths will continue to be part of the effort that results in no change in our laws.