That's like a newspaper headline "Dog bites man". Or a criminal advocating for workplace safety regulations.
The article is playing fast and loose with the facts, of course:
There is, of course, a legitimate argument that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre. This is likely true, but it's also equally true that Lanza would have been denied easy access to legal firearms if his mother, the purchaser and owner of the assault weapons he used (and the first one to be murdered by Lanza) had utilized trigger locks and/or a gun safe -- prudent safety features that any good NRA member would wholeheartedly advocate.
So, the argument is that expanded background checks would have stopped Lanza from getting a gun, or at least made it more expensive and risky to get a gun illegally rather than getting one legally. That might make some sort of sense... if Lanza had purchased firearms legally.
His mother did.
He killed his mother -- who did in fact have a gun safe -- and took her guns.
No matter what restrictions were placed on Adam Lanza's ability to buy guns legally, his ability to murder his mother and take her guns is unaffected.
[Oh, and as for the gun safe and trigger lock -- don't you dare speak for NRA members. Every NRA member I know laughs at trigger locks as entirely inadequate and unsafe devices to secure a firearm. A gun safe is more reasonable. Neither should be legally mandated, however, because they would delay the availability of a firearm for self defense. How you secure your firearms is a personal choice, as the Supreme Court affirmed in the Heller case.]
So what does this person -- this convicted felon, who is never going to legally possess a firearm -- suggest that honest men should be subjected to in order to get government permission to exercise their inalienable rights?
Every inmate admitted into the Arizona Department of Corrections is required to take a mandatory psych test. I took it on four separate occasions, one for each time I was sentenced to an Arizona State prison. The test runs about two hours, and was quite proficient at identifying the mentally disturbed?especially those prone to violence. Incoming inmates who failed this test were automatically removed from general population and redirected for further psychological evaluation.
This simple test should be mandatory for any individual who wishes to purchase a firearm.
A two-hour psychological examination before buying a firearm? For everyone? Take a moment to let it sink in: this person, this felon, is recommending that every American who wants to exercise their second-amendment right to own a gun be treated like a convicted criminal going into prison.
Putting aside everything else -- buddy, there aren't enough psychologists to administer the test. Look at the NICS check counts. How many psychologists does it take to run 175,000 2-hour examinations every day? How much does it cost? Do we take these people away from their current work with patients that might actually do some good?
A quick sample of some individual clinical psychologists' fees shows them to be all over the map. Dr. Jeff Daly practices in Carlsbad, California. His hourly rate is $150 per session and $25 for additional services, such as extensive telephone calls. Legal testimony costs $300 an hour. Dr. Lisa Lombard of Chicago, Illinois, charges an hourly fee ranging from $35 for a 15 minute office consultation to $180 for a 90 minute counseling session. She also has different hourly fees for group and couples therapy and charges $200 an hour for expert testimony. Dr. Claudia Diez works in New York City, and her standard fee is $200 an hour. Dr. Amy D. Rouse of Westerville, Ohio, has an average fee of $130 to $150 per session, according to "Psychology Today."
So we're looking at $300 per examination, roughly. The FBI says it conducted almost 20 million NICS checks in 2012. (99.5% of those were passed). So we're looking at $6B in direct costs -- before psychologists decide to increase rates in response to demand. No doubt these tests would be funded by fees levied on the person buying the gun -- which would dramatically increase the cost of most firearms, putting them even further out of reach for the people who most need them for self-defense... the poor.
And we've wasted 40 million hours of innocent people's lives by forcing them to undergo a psychological examination for wanting to be able to defend themselves effectively.
Why do I say wasted? Because it's obvious that these tests won't work when applied to the general public. I'm not a statistics expert by any means, but I understand the real issues here pretty well.
First, a bit of background. In order to evaluate the usefulness of this test, we need to know two numbers. We need to know the false positive rate (ie, the test says an individual will be violent, but they are not) and the false negative rate (ie, the test says an individual will be peaceful, but they are not). We don't actually know either of those numbers from the article.
We do know something about the population taking the test currently, though. They are people who have committed a crime serious enough to go to prison. That tells us that we have absolutely no idea how effective this test will be on the general population. We're not dealing with a random sample; we're dealing with a sample so thoroughly biased that I'm having trouble coming up with an example that would be worse without being a tautology.
The consequences of a false positive on this test as a prisoner are minor. Maybe you get assigned to a different cell block with more security. Maybe the guards watch you more closely. Maybe you aren't eligible for parole as soon. The consequences of failing this test as a free man are much worse: your right to self-defense will be denied, probably for the rest of your life, if you fail to convince a psychologist that you can be trusted with a gun. Do we subject other constitutional rights to this kind of absurd prior restraint without even a hint of due process?
No, we do not: and for good reason.
Having established that false positives on this test are serious business, let's take a look at how many of them we are likely to see.
We know there are a lot of people buying guns -- 20 million per year, roughly. Some of them buy more than one gun over the course of the year, but as a rule of thumb let's start at 20 million gun owners. (That's a lowball estimate, credible studies based on gun ownership not gun purchases per year give numbers around 50-80 million gun owners). Every year we have roughly 9000 gun homicides. Let's wave our hand and say that they all try to buy a gun legally for the sake of our argument.
If the test is accurate, we should expect to see .045% of the people taking it fail. That's less than one in a thousand. We're wasting 2 hours of time from a thousand people to maybe catch one person who might commit a crime. In reality, of course, we'll see much less than that -- because criminals don't buy guns through legal channels. They know they aren't allowed to and their background will be checked. So the people we will be annoying with this test are going to be almost universally honest, significantly less than the one in a thousand rate would suggest.
That's if the test works perfectly, with neither false positives nor false negatives. Which it won't, because nothing ever does.
Let's suppose the test is 95% accurate on the general population. That is, 95% of the time it gives the right answer, and 5% of the time it gives the wrong answer. (Whether this is a standard of accuracy achievable by modern psychology is left as an exercise for the reader).
That's a million honest people being denied their Constitutional rights on the basis of a psychological examination, not their own behavior. Every year.
If failing this examination results in a permanent and retroactive bar to gun ownership, and a typical gun owner buys one gun a year, within 20 years all of those typical gun owners will be barred from gun ownership by a false-positive test result.
Of course, that wouldn't bother the author of this proposal. He can't own firearms, after all. At least, not if he asks permission. He seems remarkably familiar with how to get a gun without asking permission.