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EDITORIAL: New gun laws passed with exaggerated assumptions

By: The Gazette editorial
July 26, 2014 Updated: July 26, 2014 at 8:50 am
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Three state senators lost their jobs. A major employer abandoned Colorado. The governor faces a tough re-election bid that should have been easy. It's all because Democratic legislators took on guns in a state where gun rights are sacred on the left, right and all points between. And they did so with faulty data.

Love or hate the new gun laws, their value was greatly overestimated from the start. When they passed, with no bipartisan support, Democrats relied on assumptions from the Colorado Legislative Council, a nonpartisan research arm of the Legislature.

The council said new background check standards, which would include gun transactions among noncommercial private buyers and sellers, would add 420,000 new background checks into the system each year. The AP review found only 13,600 additional checks, which is only 7 percent of what Democrats anticipated.

Even that number is high, the AP explains, because it includes gun show transactions that were part of the system. The number gets even worse when acknowledging online sales, which were subject to federal background checks before the new law.

So, at best, the law has created up to 7 percent as many background checks as anticipated. It's not that anyone suspects mass violations of the law. Rather, the hope for nearly a half-million new background checks was based on a gross exaggeration of the percentage of gun transactions that are conducted among private individuals. The number, though used for laws passed in 2013, came from a 1997 National Institute of Justice report that has long been a point of contention among Second Amendment advocates.

During the first year of the new law, the system denied 260 transactions to applicants who did not qualify. It's not known how many of those denials were a result of the law, or would have been snagged under the old system.

Nevertheless, the law may have prevented a murder, massacre or other violent crime by declining as many as 260 sales. No one can reasonably deny that possibility, and it's a solid defense of the law for those who advocated it.

Here's the most troubling part. The Legislature budgeted $3 million, based on the massive number of new checks the law would create. That's a lot of money, even on the generous assumption the system netted 13,600 new checks.

It's at least $220.58 for each new check and $11,358.46 for each rejection.

The AP said the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, responsible for state background checks, used the money to hire about a dozen full-time employees.

If a sale rejection saves one innocent life, it's well worth the money. But a simple background check doesn't need to cost $220.58, which often exceeds the value of the gun being sold. A rejection should not cost in excess of 
10 grand.

We hope the new checks keep guns away from criminals and make Colorado safer. We also hope the Legislature demands an explanation from its research branch for the faulty information, along with a full accounting from the CBI regarding the use of $3 million in additional funds.

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