Although a Background Check Would Not Have Stopped Adam Lanza, the NRA Is Wrong to Say So


Gotham Books

In a recent Daily Beast essay, former heroin addict Matthew Parker argues that "the NRA is wrong" to dismiss background checks as a solution to mass shootings. "The NRA says gun control won't work because illegal guns are so easy to get," Parker says. "But as a convicted felon, I know Adam Lanza never could have gotten an illegal firearm." Although people who are legally barred from buying guns can obtain them through the black market, he says, getting weapons that way is difficult for someone who is not already "immersed in lawlessness," since he would have to deal with sketchy, possibly violent characters in rough neighborhoods and pay several times the price charged in gun stores. Parker notes that the typical mass shooter has no prior criminal record, meaning he would have trouble make the connections necessary to complete such a transaction.

By the same token, of course, this nonfelon could simply buy a gun from a licensed dealer after passing a background check. Parker remembers this point in the fourth paragraph, where he concedes there's "a legitimate argument that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre," because Lanza does not seem to have had a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record (which would not have mattered anyway, since he used guns legally purchased by his mother). Parker's solution: Force gun buyers to take the same two-hour "psych test" that the Arizona prison system (where Parker once resided) uses to identify "mentally disturbed" inmates who may be "prone to violence." Just as "incoming inmates who failed this test were automatically removed from general population and redirected for further psychological evaluation," he says, would-be gun buyers who fail the test should be stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

To recap: Although it's true that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre, the NRA is wrong to say so, because if the federal government treated all citizens the way Arizona treats prison inmates it might force some budding mass murderers into a black market they are ill-equipped to navigate. Parker does not consider the possibility that the test he favors might also disqualify people who have no inclination to commit mass murder or any other form of violence. Even under the current rules, many such people are unjustly disqualified from owning firearms, as Parker implicitly concedes. "Despite the nonviolent nature of my crimes," he notes, "I cannot legally purchase a firearm."

[Thanks to Adam Simpson for the tip.]