Civil Liberties

Firearm Folly

Gun control misfire


Colorado legislators imposed tighter firearms laws on their constituents last year, a controversial move that involved the recall of two state senators who favored the restrictions and the resignation of a third. Among those new laws was a requirement that all private transfers of firearms go through a background check of the kind already imposed on commercial transactions.

Lawmakers estimated that 420,000 transactions would pass through the system over the first two years, and allocated $3 million in increased user fees to fund the paperwork. Instead, after a year in operation, officials had performed only about 13,600 reviews. That works out to about 7 percent of the predicted number. Even more disappointing for the law's advocates: The 13,600 figure includes gun show sales, which were previously required and not part of the expected flood of checks on private transfers.

Maybe there was never much of a need for the background checks after all. Lawmakers' forecasts were based on a National Institute of Justice guesstimate that 40 percent of gun transfers are between private parties. Nobody knows whether that's even close to accurate.

Another explanation for the low background check figure: Colorado has no formal gun registration-in fact, it's legally prohibited. So it may just be that gun owners are simply ignoring the law with expected impunity.