The Problems With Study On Universal Background Checks And Students

Proponents of universal background checks will do anything to try and advance their agenda. On the surface, that’s not such a big deal. Most gun owners undergo background checks when they purchase firearms anyway. Only a small minority of guns purchased are done so via face-to-face transfers that bypass background checks. Most go through licensed dealers.


The problem, though, is that universal background checks aren’t about gun sales. They seek to change the rules about how one can handle what gun at what point. One university had to shut down its student armory because the college would be required to conduct a background check on the student every time they tried to check out their own firearm. That’s a big problem and why many oppose it.

Still, anti-gunners want to push their agenda, and they’ll use anything they can to do so, including studies like these.

High school students in states that require universal background checks on all prospective gun buyers are less likely to carry guns compared to students in states that require background checks only on sales through federally licensed firearms dealers, according to a study published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics.

On average, 5.8% of nearly 180,000 students who responded to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported carrying a gun during the study period. The study did not account for adolescents who were not enrolled in school.

Researchers from Indiana University studied the survey data to determine if the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) had an effect on adolescent gun carrying, taking into consideration differences in state laws. The laws examined do not directly apply to adolescents.

About 17% of respondents who carried guns were from states with a universal background check (UBC) law at point-of-sale, whereas 83% were from states that did not have such laws.

“We’ve found that extending background checks is important to address the problem, but generally it involves more than just background check requirements,” said Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, who was not involved in the new research. “We find that licensing laws have a much bigger effect on legal access and use.”


Except, as the news report noted, these are all people who are too young to lawfully purchase a firearm anyway.

We’ll get into that more in a little while. First, let’s look at the numbers.

OK, so we have 180,000 students who responded to this survey. Of them, 5.8 percent said they carried a gun. That works out to a total of 10,440 students who said they’ve carried at school.

Now, that means 8,665 students reportedly did so in states without universal background checks, as opposed to 1,775 in states with them.

However, we’re missing some key data. For example, how was the response in universal background states versus non-universal background states? For example, what if there was a markedly low response rate from universal background check states for some reason? That alone can skew the results. Was that accounted for?

Additionally, surveys aren’t exactly the best way to learn facts. Self-reporting surveys often run afoul of any number of issues, including the respondent seeking to tell the researchers what they might think they want to hear. Other issues include the respondent outright lying. This can be especially true with kids who may want to present themselves as tough guys. While the surveys are supposed to be confidential, if they’re filled out where someone else might see, they may perpetuate a lie on the survey in case someone sees it.


That’s not to say they’re not useful for research purposes. Sometimes, they’re the only way to get data. You can’t look at them and accept them at face value.

Another point worth mentioning is that the researchers try to draw a lot of conclusions from this, including arguing that kids are buying guns via face-to-face transfers by misrepresenting their age–in other words, lying to a law-abiding seller–in order to get the guns. I find that highly unlikely, mostly because guns aren’t particularly cheap, and most kids aren’t rolling in cash. At least not those who aren’t involved in criminal activities.

They’re making a reach to justify a correlation, but correlation doesn’t equal causation.

Since this is a survey, why didn’t they include a question about how the student got the gun in the first place? If you’re going to trust them to tell you honestly if they carried one or not, why not ask them how they got it? One would have to be sure to include black market sales, of course, as well as theft, but if you’re going to try to push policy based on a survey, it might be useful to make sure it’s relevant.

As it stands, I see no reason to take this survey at face value — none, especially when it’s so easy to debunk.


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