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Myth vs. Fact


Recently introduced federal "universal" background check legislation is the latest, most comprehensive attempt to restrict firearm transfers by law-abiding gun owners everywhere. Don't be fooled. H.R. 8 and S. 42 are more than just background check bills— they have nothing to do with a safer America or addressing crime. Instead, hidden within its language is a callous attempt to restrict the rights of law-abiding Americans and unknowingly turn them into criminals.

Myth vs. Fact

  • Myth: "Universal" background checks are a gun safety measure

    Fact: "Universal" background checks have nothing to do with addressing crime

    Proponents of expanded background checks claim that they want to stop dangerous people from obtaining firearms, but there is no evidence that expanded background checks are useful for this purpose. Just last year, a study by anti-gun researchers confirmed that expanded background checks in California did not reduce gun homicides or gun suicides. This finding is consistent with a review of past studies on expanded background checks by the RAND Corporation that found that “evidence of the effect of private-seller background checks on firearm homicides is inconclusive.” These studies confirm that anti-gun members of Congress aren’t interested in actually addressing violent crime; they’re just trying to deflect the blame on law-abiding gun owners.

  • Myth: 97% of Americans Support So-Called "Universal" Background Checks

    Fact: When put before voters, these measures did not come close to garnering 97 percent of the vote.

    The gun control lobby likes to cite that 97 percent of Americans support so-called "universal" background checks. But when put before American voters, the measures did not come close to garnering 97 percent of the vote. In some instances, they failed to get a majority of the vote or barely passed. The following ballot initiatives on "universal" background checks show the statewide support in the context of how much money gun control advocates spent versus those opposed to it. 

    • In 2014, backers of a Washington State ballot initiative, I-594, outspent opponents by almost 19-1. Despite the overwhelming financial advantage of supporters, the measure garnered only 59% of the votes.
    • In Nevada, a 2016 “universal” background check ballot initiative passed by less than one percent of the vote, despite Bloomberg and Everytown outspending opponents by a margin of 3-1.  Nevada’s poorly written background check law has since been found unenforceable by the state Attorney General, in part because the FBI refuses to conduct the expanded background checks.  The Bureau has determined that the State of Nevada “…cannot dictate how federal resources are applied.”
    • In Maine, a majority of voters rejected an Everytown-backed 2016 ballot initiative on “universal” background checks despite a more than 6-1 spending advantage by gun control proponents.
  • Myth: Laws Criminalizing Private Gun Transfers Stop Criminals and Makes Us Safer

    Fact: "Universal" background checks have no effect on crime or public safety

    Criminals already ignore existing state and federal gun laws. There is no reason to believe that criminals will be any more likely to follow new background check laws, and these laws won’t stop criminals from stealing firearms, acquiring them on the black market, or getting them from straw purchasers.

    Gun control proponents argue that expanded background check laws on private gun transfers reduce firearm suicides and homicides, often by extreme margins. Everytown for Gun Safety, for example, claims that states with expanded background check laws had 46% fewer gun homicides of women by partners, and similar high reductions in suicides and gun homicides against the police, than states without such laws.  Dr. John Lott, in his 2016 book, The War on Guns, analyzed Everytown’s claims and compared data for states with expanded background check laws to those without such laws for the period 2000 to 2014. He concluded there were no statistically significant effects of expanded background check laws on suicides, or the murder rates against women and law enforcement when controlling for population, and socio-economic and other factors.

    More recently, a study released in 2018 on California’s expanded background check law, which mandates a background check for nearly all firearm sales, determined that the law had no impact on gun homicide or suicide rates. The study, conducted by the Violence Prevention Research Program at the UC Davis School of Medicine and the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University, examined the rates of firearm homicides and firearm suicides in the decade following the imposition of the background check requirement (along with a law prohibiting anyone with a violent misdemeanor conviction from gun possession). The study period was 1981-2000, with secondary analysis up to 2005, and compared the actual rates with expected rates based on data from 32 control states that did not have these laws and did not implement other major firearm policies during the same time. The study found “no change in the rates of either cause of death from firearms” following the enactment of the expanded background check law. 

    In fact, one direct impact on public safety is that expanded background check laws make it more difficult and more expensive for law-abiding individuals to buy guns, with poor residents of high-crime areas being the persons most likely “priced out” of obtaining a gun for defending themselves and their family. 

  • Myth: "Universal" Background Check Laws Have Worked in Other States

    Fact: "Universal" Background Checks Have Little Measurable Effect

    A 2017 study by gun control researchers looked at expanded background check laws in Colorado, Delaware and Washington State and found that in Colorado and Washington, the laws had “little measurable effect” – there wasn’t much difference in the number of background checks that were done after the laws went into effect as compared with the estimated number expected without the law. In addition, Washington State did not even have its first charge brought for a violation of that state’s law until after it had been in effect for almost two years.  Another expanded background check law, Nevada’s 2016 statute, has been declared unenforceable by the state Attorney General, with a Nevada court tossing out a subsequent lawsuit brought by the proponents to enforce the law. 

    These examples raise serious concerns about the effectiveness of so-called universal background checks: 

    • they will tax scarce law enforcement resources;
    • they will cost law-abiding Americans time, money and freedom;
    • they will do nothing to stop criminals. 
  • Myth: "Universal" Background Checks Would Have Stopped High-Profile Shootings

    Fact: High-Profile Shooters PASSED Background Checks

    Going back to VA Tech shooting in 2007:  Not a single one of the cases did a perpetrator buy his weapon through an "unregulated private sale," through "the Internet," or in "the parking lot at a gun show."  

    Recent attackers and alleged attackers who have passed background checks for their guns.  These include the attackers in the following incidents:

    • Thousand Oaks, California
    • Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Pennsylvania
    • Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida
    • Sutherland Springs, Texas
    • Las Vegas, Nevada
    • Pulse nightclub, Florida
    • Umpqua Community College, Oregon 
    • Roanoke news crew shooting, Virginia
    • Lafayette theater shooting, Louisiana
    • Chattanooga National Guard shooting, Tennessee
    • Charleston church shooting, South Carolina
    • Santa Barbara campus shooting, California
    • Navy Yard, Washington, DC
    • Sikh Temple, Wisconsin
    • Aurora theater, Colorado 
    • Tucson, Arizona
    • Fort Hood, Texas
  • Myth: "Universal" Background Checks Will Fix the So-Called "Gun Show Loophole"

    Fact: There is No Such Thing as the "Gun Show Loophole"

    The same laws apply to the same categories of persons, regardless of where or how a firearm sale or transfer takes place.  Federal law generally requires all FFLs to conduct a NICS check prior to the transfer of any firearm to an unlicensed person, whether it occurs at the dealer’s retail premises or at a gun show.  Federal law strictly controls who may access NICS and the purposes for which access is made. Generally, access is limited to FFLs and law enforcement personnel.  Federal law comprehensively regulates “dealers in firearms” but specifically excludes, from what it defines as a “dealer,” any private individual who simply makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of a personal collection of firearms. Such persons are (1) not required to be licensed dealers; (2) not required to conduct records checks prior to transferring firearms, and (3) are not permitted to use the NICS used by licensed dealers.    

    As an example, roughly 75-80 percent of vendors who sell firearms at New Mexico gun shows are FFLs. Despite the claim that background checks are not being done at gun shows, all of these vendors conduct the NICS background checks required by federal law. And, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, “only a small percentage of tables at gun shows, about 20 to 25 percent, actually sell firearms. The others sell books, accessories or other items.” 

    Gun control advocates have for years perpetuated the myth that criminals obtain firearms at gun shows, while offering no evidence to support their claims. The fact is, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys of prison inmates regarding the sources of guns used in their crimes consistently find that it is very rare for criminals to get their guns at gun shows. The latest survey, Source and Use of Firearms Involved in Crimes: Survey of Prison Inmates, 2016 (January 2019), found that less than one percent of inmates reported "gun shows" as the source of a gun they used in a crime. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of criminals rely on illegal sources like the black market or "straw purchasers."

  • Myth: H.R. 8/ S. 42 Include "Reasonable Exceptions"

    Fact: The Exemptions are Restrictive and Confusing

    These bills supposedly exempt transfers for hunting and shooting ranges, but because of the language of the bills, the exemptions are restrictive and confusing. For example, a firearm can be borrowed to shoot at an "area designated for the purpose of target shooting," however, that same activity away from an established range such as BLM land is not authorized and would constitute an illegal transfer.

    The same is true of the exception for transfers for hunting. That exception only applies where the transfer is "reasonably necessary" for hunting and when the transferor "has reason to believe that the transferee will comply with all licensing and permit requirements for such hunting." These extremely vague exceptions create traps for unwary gun owners. 

  • Myth: H.R. 8/ S. 42 Only Apply to Firearms Sales/Transfers at Gun Shows

    Fact: "Universal" Background Checks Legislation Criminalizes Otherwise Law-Abiding Gun Owners

    What gun control proponents refer to as "universal" background check laws can more accurately be described as measures that would criminalize virtually all gun transfers between private individuals, including between close friends, neighbors, co-workers, and many family members. The terms they use give the false impression that such laws would prevent felons and other prohibited persons from acquiring firearms when most criminals obtain them through the black market or other unlawful means. Instead of protecting the public, these laws criminalize the simple act of handing a firearm to another person. 


Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.