Do 40% of Gun Purchases Really Escape Background Checks?

If you buy a firearm at the local sporting goods store, pawn shop, or other licensed gun seller, you have to submit to a background check. It doesn’t usually take very long, and it’s essentially filling out a form plus a phone call to the FBI’s NICS system to make sure that you’re not a felon or other person who ought not own a firearm. The screening could probably use a database upgrade and a tech upgrade to be able to handle a higher call volume, but it basically works. You also have to go through the background check if you buy a gun off the internet, at or similar site.


President Obama wants background checks expanded, so that even if you buy a gun from a private citizen who does not make their living selling firearms, you would have to submit to a background check. He and others sympathetic to increasing gun control cite a statistic that on its face sounds alarming: That 40% of all gun purchases in the US happen among private citizens and therefore outside the background check system. That’s the so-called “gun show loophole,” which gets touted even though the vast majority of sales that happen at gun shows involve licensed dealers and, therefore, background checks.

Well, John Fund took a look at the alarming 40% stat. There’s less to it than meets the eye.

The dubious statistic of guns that avoided background checks — which is actually 36 percent — comes from a small 251-person survey on gun sales two decades ago, very early in the Clinton administration. Most of the survey covered sales before the Brady Act instituted mandatory federal background checks in early 1994.

If that alone didn’t make the number invalid, the federal survey simply asked buyers if they thought they were buying from a licensed firearms dealer. While all Federal Firearm Licensees 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.

Another reason for the high number is that it includes guns transferred as inheritances or as gifts from family members. Even President Obama’s background proposal excludes almost all of those transfers.

If you look at guns that were bought, traded, borrowed, rented, issued as a requirement of the job, or won through raffles, 85 percent went through Federal Firearm Licensees and would have been subject to a background check. Only 15 percent would have been transferred without a background check.


More at the link. It also turns out that when the background check system flags a buyer as a potential problem, it’s almost always a case of mistaken identity. If we task non-professionals with running the checks, we may end up increasing the number of false positives.

We cannot have a mature national conversation about all of this when one side can’t even get their terminology straight and keeps resorting to bogus statistics to make their case. Anyone who knows the difference between a clip and a magazine, and who knows that no sane military would send soldiers into battle armed with the AR15 because it is not truly a military weapon, can’t take the other side’s honesty at face value. When they go on about how awful and powerful semiautomatic weapons are because their clips hold too many bullets, they sound like idiots.


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