The antis want “universal background checks.” They want the government to run a federal background check on all firearms transactions – including gun show sales, private sales and transfers to friends or family members. Why? To create federal
control oversight of all firearms transactions, to reduce the number of felons purchasing guns (illegal sales notwithstanding). Is there any evidence to suggest that this would reduce firearms-related crime? Only as much evidence as there is to suggest that limiting ammunition magazine capacity to 10 rounds would reduce firearms-related crime (i.e. none). To support their UBC campaign, the antis repeat this stat: 40 percent of all firearms transactions do not involve a background check. The Reno Gazette-Journal gives the 40 percent stat a thorough debunking . . .
• 40 percent: The press release’s source for the claim about 40 percent of gun sales not going through a licensed dealer is a factsheet put out by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The five-page document has 23 footnotes for citations supporting various claims — but not for this statement: “Requiring a background check for every gun sale will simply expand the existing system to cover the estimated 40% of gun transfers that occur between ‘private’ parties.”
Fortunately, the source for the 40-percent claim is widely known. It comes from a 1997 National Justice Institute report.
It was based on a phone survey in 1994 where 251 people who’d bought a gun in the previous two years were asked if they got it from a licensed dealer, who would’ve been required to run a background check.
The survey found that 64.3 percent thought they got their gun from a licensed dealer, and the study’s authors assumed the remaining 35.7 percent did not. Somehow this was rounded up to 40 percent.
In 2012, PolitiFact.com asked one of the study’s authors — Philip Cook of Duke University — if he thought the stats were still good. He replied:
“The answer is I have no idea. This survey was done almost 20 years ago. … It’s clear there are a lot of transactions that are not through dealers. How many, we’re not really clear on it. … We would say it’s a very old number.”
The other author of the study — Jens Ludwig at the University of Chicago — was asked by the Washington Post last year to re-examine the survey’s data.
He found, the Post reported, that “gun purchases without background checks amounted to 14 to 22 percent” of total sales.
Thank you Reno Gazetta-Journal. I would also like to point out that there’s no reliable data on the number of felons who purchase guns within this “guns purchased outside licensed gun dealers” subset. In other words, the telephone interviewers didn’t ask any of the 251 respondents if they were felons – not that it would have done any good. The only evidence we have of where criminals get their guns comes from a 1997 Department of Justice survey of 18k convicts. Here’s the summary via dailycaller.com:
A 1997 Justice Department survey of more than 18,000 state and federal convicts revealed the truth:
• 39.6% of criminals obtained a gun from a friend or family member
• 39.2% of criminals obtained a gun on the street or from an illegal source
• 0.7% of criminals purchased a gun at a gun show
• 1% of criminals purchased a gun at a flea market
• 3.8% of criminals purchased a gun from a pawn shop
• 8.3% of criminals actually bought their guns from retail outlets
Note that less than 9 percent of all guns obtained by criminals in this survey came from retail outlets, hardly “a lot” compared to the almost 40 percent of convicts who obtained guns from friends or family or the almost 40 percent who obtained them illegally on the street. The gun-show loophole? Less than 1 percent of criminal guns came from gun shows. Nothing there, either.
The survey data were analyzed and released in 2001 then revised in 2002, but while the eye-opening details are more than 10 years old it’s hard to believe criminal responses have changed much over the last decade.
One interesting “problem”: if friends and family provided criminals with guns, where did they get them? How many of those guns were purchased at gun stores, as so-called “straw purchases” (i.e. buying a gun for a prohibited person)? Even if it’s half, what does that tell you?
That the gun store background check system doesn’t work. I would say it can’t work. In any case, if the existing background check system doesn’t work, why expand it? Why not kill it altogether? It’s hugely expensive, practically ineffective and thoroughly unconstitutional. Besides, more guns, less crime – with plenty of stats to back that up.
Anyway, the 40 percent stat is a lie. Wherever you see it, it’s liars lying. Period.