Hickenlooper Wrong On Universal Background Check Impact

AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is one of the Democrats hoping to be president. While he lacks the name recognition of a Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren, he does have a name that sounds like the town drunk in an old western movie.

Regardless, he also has his anti-gun credentials handy. Strong ones, in fact, and that seems to be a requirement to be considered a viable candidate for the Democrats in 2020.

However, while touting his anti-gun street cred, he may have overstated the impact of his state’s universal background checks just a tad.

Hickenlooper has repeatedly touted his signature on a universal background check measure. He has said the law was important because background checks in Colorado have prevented people from purchasing guns and that the system in place beforehand didn’t require checks on half of all gun sales.

“In a state like Colorado with 5.5 million people, there were 38 people in 2012 who—and we only got to half the gun purchases—but there were 38 people convicted of homicides who tried to buy a gun and we stopped them,” Hickenlooper told The Electables podcast last month.

In 2013, then-governor Hickenlooper signed two new gun-control measures passed by the state general assembly in response to the Aurora Theater shooting, with one of those measures requiring so-called universal background checks.

To assess the impact of HB 1229 on gun checks in Colorado, the Washington Free Beacon looked at data from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations (CBI), originally obtained by the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Those data, which are monthly between July 2012 and December 2014, provide raw totals of background checks against sales by licensed gun dealers, by private individuals at gun shows, and by private individuals elsewhere.

Before the passage of the universal background check measure in 2013, Colorado had already required background checks on private sales at gun shows—CBI had been tracking those sales. HB 1229 expanded that requirement to nearly all other forms of private sales. At that point, CBI began tracking those sales as well.

Contra Hickenlooper’s claim that the lack of universal checks was leading to half of sales being uncovered, data show the overwhelming majority of sales pre- and post-HB 1229 were clearly attributable to purchasers at already-covered, licensed gun dealers.

There is little evidence from these data sets to suggest that HB 1229 had much of an impact at all, never mind doubling the number of gun sales that were background checked as Hickenlooper claimed. Further, Colorado’s experience suggests private sales are not as prevalent as some gun-control advocates suggest, or a universal background check system doesn’t capture as many private sales as advocates suggest, or likely a combination of the two.

In other words, he’s bragging about a law that pretty much did nothing.

Well, it did nothing except make it a bit more difficult for people looking to sell excess firearms.

I’ve noted before that most gun owners buy from licensed dealers. Why? Because the guns we want may not be available through a private seller. When I wanted my Glock 19, I didn’t want to wait for some guy who had a Glock 19 for sale. I went to a store and bought the damn thing — the same when I bought my last AR-15.

Frankly, most gun owners are the same way. They may buy a gun that’s being sold by a private seller, but that’s more of it being too good an opportunity for them to pass up or something similar. It’s not all that common, though.

Hickenlooper is trying desperately to grab hold of relevance in a crowded Democratic field, so it’s not surprising that he holds up a piece of legislation popular with the anti-gunners and overstates its effectiveness.

I won’t get mad that he’s lying, though. It’s what politicians do. It would be like getting mad at a shark for eating.