The claim that 40 percent of gun sales do not go through a federal background check is false and comes from a decades-old survey that has been widely debunked.
- Media outlets including the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Washington Post have concluded that this claim is false. Washington Post gave the claim 3 out of 4 Pinocchios for being way off target.
- Most of the survey covered sales before a federal background check system existed.
- The 1994 survey was conducted eight months after the Brady Act went into effect, mandating background checks on individuals seeking to buy firearms from federally licensed dealers. Survey participants were asked about their gun acquisitions going back two years. Some of the participants likely made gun purchases before the Brady Act, when they were not required to undergo federal background checks.
- Self-reports are inherently unreliable – not actual data of sales.
- Only a small group of gun owners — 251 people — answered the survey question about the origin of their weapons. Some of the gun owners were not sure how they had gotten their guns, answering “probably” or “probably not” on whether they got the gun from a licensed firearm dealer.
- Additionally, the federal survey simply asked buyers if they thought they were buying from a licensed firearms dealer. While all Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs) do background checks, only those perceived as being FFLs were counted. Yet, there is much evidence that survey respondents who went to the smallest FFLs, especially the “kitchen table” types, had no idea that the dealer was actually “licensed.” Many buyers seemed to think that only “brick and mortar” stores were licensed dealers, and so the survey underestimating the number of sales covered by the checks.
- The researchers gave this number for all transactions, including gifts, not just “sales.” Count only guns that were bought, traded, borrowed, rented, issued as a job requirement or won through raffles, and 85 percent went through federally licensed gun dealers; just 15 percent would’ve been transferred without a background check.
- Economist John Lott, the author of several landmark studies on the real-world impact of gun control, has concluded that if you take out transfers of guns either between FFLs or between family members, the remaining number of transfers falls to about 10 percent. Lott stated, “We don’t know the precise number today, but it is hard to believe that it is above single digits.” (http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/op-ed-truth-background-checks)
Facts on “how criminals get their guns”:
How criminals get guns— According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the vast majority of criminals in state prison for gun crimes get guns through theft, on the black market, from a drug dealer or “on the street.” Less than one percent get guns from gun shows.
Straw purchasers— According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), “The most frequent type of trafficking channel identified in ATF investigations is straw purchasing from federally licensed firearms dealers. Nearly 50 percent . . . .” Straw purchasers are people who pass background checks and buy guns for criminals, defeating the background check system.
Stolen guns— According to the BJS, “about 1.4 million guns, or an annual average of 232,400, were stolen during burglaries and other property crimes in the six-year period from 2005 through 2010.” The FBI’s stolen firearm file contained over 2 million reports as of March 1995.The BATFE has reported “Those that steal firearms commit violent crimes with stolen guns, transfer stolen firearms to others who commit crimes, and create an unregulated secondary market for firearms, including a market for those who are prohibited by law from possessing a gun. ”Even gun control supporters have said, “approximately 500,000 guns are stolen each year from private citizens. . . . Obviously, these stolen guns go directly into the hands of criminals. ”A study conducted by gun control supporters found that in 1994 “About 211,000 handguns and 382,000 long guns were stolen in noncommercial thefts that year, for a total of 593,000 stolen firearms.”