Thursday, April 16, 2009

An ad campaign is being launched today to try to force New York City’s gun-control laws on Virginians. The ads running in the commonwealth are funded by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The mayor should keep his big-government politics north of the Mason-Dixon Line where they belong.

Mr. Bloomberg donated $500,000 last year to a gun-control lobbying outfit called Americans United for Safe Streets, which is running the campaign. The mayor’s largesse accounts for 99.5 percent of all money raised by the group. The ads are pegged to the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings and link that carnage to the so-called gun-show loophole. This is part of a broader media campaign. On Friday night, ABC aired a heavily promoted, hourlong special that tied gun shows to the Virginia Tech murders and advocated clamping down on gun shows.

Despite constant media references to an insidious-sounding gun-show loophole, there is no legal loophole for buying firearms at gun shows. Dealers at gun shows must perform the same background checks as stores. The real ire of gun-control groups is for the nonregulated private transfer of guns, but there is no special exemption for gun shows. In jurisdictions where private transactions between individuals are not regulated, it doesn’t matter where that transfer takes place. Whether in a home or at a gun show, a sale between two private individuals is a private transaction.

Evidence shows that regulating private transfers does not cut down on the supply of guns to criminals. The Virginia Tech killer didn’t get his weapons from gun shows, and neither do most criminals. In a Justice Department survey of 18,000 state-prison inmates, fewer than 1 percent (0.7 percent) of prisoners had obtained their guns from gun shows. When grouping flea markets and gun shows together, the number is only 1.7 percent.

Eighteen states regulate the private transfer of handguns, with some laws going back several decades. There is not a single academic study showing that regulating private individuals selling their own guns reduces any type of violent crime. These laws are more likely to make Virginia more dangerous. Recent research by Mark Duggan and Randi Hjalmarsson at the University of Maryland and Brian Jacob at Harvard finds that homicide rates within 25 miles of gun shows fall after the events take place.

Research by John Lott, a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland and editorial writer for this page, found increases in violent crime after gun-show regulations were enacted. One explanation is that gun-control laws make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to get guns to protect themselves and their families. Such restrictions cut the number of gun shows by 25 percent, thus eliminating a relatively inexpensive source of guns for many law-abiding citizens.

There is partisan motivation for Mr. Bloomberg’s activism in the Old Dominion. His ads attack Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert R. McDonnell, the former attorney general of Virginia, for his opposition to closing down gun shows. Mr. McDonnell doesn’t need our help defending his position on the issue. Democrat gun-control efforts will boost his campaign by making him a hero to voters for defending their Second Amendment rights. We encourage Democrats to make this losing issue into a national campaign.

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