The Truth About Firearms Purchased Without a Background Check

TTAG reader DonS takes a look at Colorado’s “universal background check” stats:

Prior to 31 March 2001, Colorado was like most other states in that private party transfers (PPTs) did not require background checks. From 31 March 2001 through 30 June 2013, all transfers at gun shows required background checks, whether the transferor was an FFL or not. That is, PPTs at gun shows now require a background check. C.R.S. 12-26.1-101

On 1 July 2013, Colorado’s “universal background check” law became effective. With very few exceptions (e.g. bona fide gifts between certain family members, some loans, etc.) all transfers must go through an FFL and are subject to a background check. C.R.S. 18-12-112

In Colorado, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the “point of contact” for BCs. Since July 2013, the CBI has kept a monthly tally of how many transfers were “FFL sales” (transfers out of an FFL’s own stock that would be subject to a BC by federal law) vs “private sales” (transfers between non-FFLs that only require a BC due to state law). “Private sales” include those at gun shows that were covered by the 2001 law.

From 1 July 2013 through 30 Nov 2016 (the last month for which data is available), the CBI processed 1,173,154 transactions through their InstaCheck unit. “FFL sales” accounted for 1,116,491 transactions. The remaining 56,663 transactions were “private sales”.

In Colorado over the last three and a half years, only 4.83% of transfers have been PPTs that, under federal law, would not have required a background check.

Why does CO’s data differ so wildly from the “40%” number [quoted by gun control advocates]? I can think of a few possibilities:

1. People aren’t obeying the law
2. PPTs have plummeted in CO since July 2013
3. Most PPTs in CO are intra-familial gifts that are exempt from the new law
4. The “40%” number is utter nonsense

My money’s on some combination of these, with #4 accounting for most of the discrepancy.

comments

  1. avatar Soccerchainsaw says:

    At first glance at this story’s headline, I thought that this website had changed ownership…

    1. avatar Warren says:

      Without a background check, either. The horror.

  2. avatar rt66paul says:

    I think that it has always been that guns transferred without a background check were “collectables”. These guns were antiques and today these guns are older guns(some WWI military and real nice examples of those made before the war.
    While these could be good shooters, no one is going to sell these cheap to a gang banger(as if that is what he wants anyway). Collectors buy, sell, swap and bet with whatever they collect – it could be coins, stamps, guns, knives or old bottles and their caps. Tacking on $150 in fees and tax to do this sort of thing just makes us angry and we fing ways around at least some of the fees. Guys are goind to collect things and if it is guns, they already have passed the background check, so it is not about us getting a background check, it is about the government knowing where each and every weapon is. This runs counter to our collecting

    1. avatar Stinkeye says:

      I, for one, have bought, sold, and traded more guns that weren’t even remotely “collectible” through private transfers than the kind of collectibles you’re talking about. If sites like Armslist are any indication, older collectibles are a pretty small fraction of “no background check” sales.

    2. avatar gsteele531 says:

      Unless state law says that you have to run a background check, citizens are free to sell to others guns from their private collection (not as a business) without requiring a background check. This is the so-called “gun show loophole” that isn’t a loophole – it’s written into law; although some gun shows require the background check as policy. State law can also require that you perform a background check, as is the case here in the People’s Republic of Rhode Island, regardless of whether it is a gun from your private collection or not. As for buying guns, if you have a Curios and Relics FFL, you can buy guns on the C&R list from wherever, just as a full FFL can buy any non-NFA gun from wherever.

  3. avatar JDC says:

    As a resident of said state, my guess is that there are a lot of firearms changing hands without checks.

    1. avatar Jack says:

      I bet you’re correct. Same as the magazine ban. Stupid laws by stupid politicians.

      1. avatar Rick says:

        Two fewer, after the recall!

        1. still more than enough to make me not want to live there.

      2. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

        Non-compliant mags are pretty easy to find. I’ve seen them in the open at gun shows, I’ve seen cops buy them at gun shows for their personal firearms. 62 County Sheriffs refused in writing, in advance, to enforce that one.

  4. avatar peirsonb says:

    Number 4 is definitely true. It doesn’t even pass the sniff test: if no background check is required and I pay cash to a private individual there is no record of any transaction ever having taken place.

    How can you presume to pull a statistic from a non-existent data pool?

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Also, if a BC is required and that requirement is ignored, there is no record that a transaction ever took place. If an ATF thug is watching you do it, there is still no evidence beyond his word against yours, and there are 2 of you, buyer and seller. Probably both are testifying that he attempted to rob you both of all your money, only dreamed up an illegal firearm transfer when you resisted the theft. As I’ve said before, these UBC laws are COMPLETELY unenforceable, and incredibly stupid.

      Therefore, my vote is for equal quantities of #1 and #4.

  5. avatar Chip Bennett says:

    The 40% number was always utter and complete nonsense.

  6. avatar Aaron M. Walker says:

    “SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED”! Enough said !

  7. avatar former water walker says:

    Quite similar in Illinois. A pain in he azz. And NOTHING CHANGED. Just more BS…

    1. avatar Binder says:

      Let’s be honest, nothing like Illinois. No trip to the fll, no records to send to the state. All you need to do is verify the FOID card online and put the authorization code on the bill of sale. Oh, the real kicker., read the enforcement side of the law. The upside (if you can call it that) is that you have a paper trail if the cops come a knocking. I know of a lot of people that will only do a private firearm sale with a ffl just for the paper trail.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        WTF paper trail? What for? The only thing I need a paper trail for is the seller claiming I stole the gun, and my bank can produce an image of the cancelled check, all the paper trail I need. What are you talking about, that a paper trail is necessary for? And what is all the silliness you are describing about FOID? How about you give me the payment, I hand you the gun. All done, did not cost the interwebz a thing! You seem to be describing a registration scheme, no more, no less. I will not comply.

  8. avatar tdiinva (now in wisconsin) says:

    I think the all of the above is the appropriate answer. People whow know each other, have someone vouch for the buyer and/or seller or live in counties where the Sheriff opposes the new law continue to sell without a background check. This leads to fewer private sales. Interfamilial transfers are a small factor and of course the 40% has always been a phony number.

  9. avatar JDC says:

    What I find interesting is that there were only 1,116,000 guns purchased from dealer stock during that time. That number equals only one fifth of Colorado’s population. I would have thought there would have been more.
    The whole magazine ban thing is kind of interesting. There are new guns that come with a magazine capacity of more than 15 rounds, that seemed to be able to be purchased in gun shops. And no one seems to care. Same thing with “magazine kits”.

    1. avatar tdiinva (now in wisconsin) says:

      The number of households is smaller than total population. If average household size is two the number is 40%. My guess is the average household size is higher than that.

    2. avatar DonS says:

      “What I find interesting is that there were only 1,116,000 guns purchased from dealer stock during that time. That number equals only one fifth of Colorado’s population. I would have thought there would have been more.”

      I’m not surprised. It matches my experience exactly.

      My family of 5 has lived in CO for about 5 1/2 years. Since we moved here, I’ve purchased 4 guns from FFLs – but only 1 of them was purchased after 01 July 2013.

  10. avatar Noishkel says:

    Personally I’m fully DONE playing the ‘background check’ game. Background checks are GARBAGE. The National Guard’s internal background checks are GARBAGE. The FBI’s background checks are GARBAGE. And at this point even background check supporters are GARBAGE.

    How many FREAKIN’ times do we have to listen to regressive trash harp on about something that never worked and never will work? Right now we’re at the point where someone can hit Craig’s list and drop less than a grand and start rolling entire arsenals of weapons. Everything from throw away pistols, to sub-machine guns, to motors and hand grenades. The only reason that DOESN’T happen, is because most normal law abide people don’t want to do these things. We are a nation of 300 MILLION that only has about 2 million full time cops total, yet the only places that are really violent blue state with urban sh*t holes that ban guns already. Do the freakin’ math!

    1. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

      Dude, you know where I can get a submachine gun for less than $1K? Help a brother out, man!

  11. avatar Larry Matthies says:

    The fact that my two rifles a 308 semi auto and a 12 guage semi auto were stolen and I lost my job it sure would be nice to win this rifle. With everything going on with our government lately I would feal a lot safer if I won this rifle.

  12. avatar neiowa says:

    I did not realize that Colorado had gone full on Caltard. Years ago. Sad that a beautiful state was overrun with the overflow of nuts from CA. The overflow trash has ruined most of the West.

    1. avatar JDC says:

      Not even close to Cali.

      1. avatar DonS says:

        Correct – not even close.

        * Shall issue
        * Open carry OK (*)
        * No AWB (*)
        * No “roster”
        * No waiting period
        * No “one handgun every 30 days”
        * NFA is A-OK

        (*) Offer void in City and County of Denver

        And this doesn’t even count California’s latest nonsense (e.g. previously-grandfathered mags now banned, permit required to buy ammo).

        Except for the [unenforceable] “high capacity” magazine ban and UBCs, Colorado is probably still one of the most gun-friendly states in the Union.

        1. avatar JDC says:

          Thanks. I didn’t feel like typing all that. In fairness also, not all that even applies to Denver.

        2. avatar DonS says:

          “not all that even applies to Denver”

          Yeah, only the AW and open carry bans apply to Denver (the things I flagged with “(*)”).

        3. avatar JDC says:

          Sorry. I didn’t see the asterisks! I wonder if my Kel-Tec Sub 2000 is considered an AW? It isn’t mentioned in the Denver law.

        4. avatar DonS says:

          “Kel-Tec Sub 2000”

          Probably depends on the magazines. The Denver ordinance says:

          (1) Assault weapon shall include all firearms with any of the following characteristics:
          a. All semiautomatic action, centerfire rifles with a detachable magazine with a capacity of twenty-one (21) or more rounds.

          Does ‘with a detachable magazine’ mean that if I only own 15-round mags for my AR, it’s not an assault weapon in Denver?

        5. avatar LarryinTX says:

          I prefer 20-rd mags, always have, so I own dozens. I guess none of mine are assalty, even my .308 with 20-rd mags.

        6. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

          IANAL, but it is my understanding that the magazine capacity is the “feature” that is banned. Your mags s/b OK.

  13. avatar MarkPA says:

    This whole discussion of %-of-transfers w/o BCs is nonsensical. Without fear of refutation, we know that:

    100% of transfers to PROHIBITED persons are unlawful irrespective of whether there is any BC and whether the recipient is cleared.

    100% of transfers to persons who are ABLE to exercise their 2A rights are NO threat to public safety even if there is no BC.

    Whether the fraction of transfers without a BC were 1% or 99% of the total is entirely irrelevant.

    The public discussion ought to be concentrated on the efficacy of the BC system: as it exists now; and, as it might exist if improved. If it lacks efficacy in its current form then none of these statistics matter. If it would lack efficacy if it were “fixed” then reducing the number of BC-less transfers would not help.

    Why are WE, the PotG, bothering to comment on the 40% “statistic” or the recent news suggesting a 20% “statistic”? In commenting on these “statistics” we are taking the bait. The gun-controllers are “chumming the sharks” and we simply can’t resist in lunging for every last bit of chopped fish.

    Generally, there are two opportunities to “control guns”:

    1. at any time during which a prohibited-person possesses a gun; or,

    2. at the singular moment-in-time when lawful owner transfers a gun to a prohibited-person.

    Surveilling, tracking down, stopping, detecting and arresting a felon-in-possession can be made to work. It is an imperfect approach, but it is, at least, somewhat effective.

    Catching a transaction – at a moment in time – is comparatively futile. How do we catch burglars who sell to criminals? How do we catch straw-buyers who give guns to their principals? We need to get voters to concentrate on THESE TWO QUESTIONS. Once they recognize that neither (let alone both) admit of an answer, the “promise” of BC (and UBC) will ring as a hollow lie.

    Then, and ONLY then, can we turn to the question of whether American society has the will to enforce felon-in-possession. Perhaps we do; or, we DON’T. IF we DON’T, what is the point of arguing about “gun-control”?

    1. avatar DonS says:

      “Whether the fraction of transfers without a BC were 1% or 99% of the total is entirely irrelevant. ”

      It becomes relevant when the “40% number” is used in the state legislature as an argument in favor of passing “universal background checks”.

      Had they been honest and said “less than 5%”, it’s less likely that such legislation would have passed.

  14. avatar JDC says:

    Another thing, also. California takes a lot of heat for its’ gun laws. And, with the passage of the new ones, they are probably the most onerous in the U.S. However, that is a fairly recent phenom. 12-15 years ago, the laws weren’t that bad. However, the gun laws in most North Eastern states are really bad, and have been that way for a much longer time.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      In fact, it is envy of those same northeastern states’ experience with their steadily increasing crime statistics which made CA so determined to get its own crime wave going on, so they started copying CA’s stupid laws!

    2. avatar DonS says:

      * CA’s open carry ban dates to 1967 (Mulford Act, which repealed a state law that allowed open carry)
      * California’s AWB goes back to 1989 (Roberti-Roos act)
      * CA’s “PPTs must go through FFL” started in 1991
      * CA’s 10-round mag limit started in 1999

      Way longer than 12-15 years ago.

  15. avatar TruthTellers says:

    I hate the phrase “bona-fide…”

    It’s not even English.

    1. avatar DaveL says:

      If you want to protest the importation of foreign words and phrases into the English language, that horse left the barn even before anybody ever got the idea of keeping horses in barns.

      1. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

        Si!

  16. avatar strych9 says:

    SWIM knows a fair number of Colorado cops.

    SWIM goes out of state to purchase non-pistol firearms and “high capacity” magazines and knows LEO’s that do the same. SWIM has had this recommended to him by LEO’s and FFL’s. SWIM has had LEO’s offer to pick things like mags up for SWIM while the LEO’s were out of state.

    SWIM knows LEO’s who happen to hold and out of Driver’s Licences and use them to skirt the law.

    SWIM knows that the laws here are bullshit because SWIM knows cops that “illegally” buy guns privately within the state. SWIM believes this is commonly referred to on the interwebz as “Irish Democracy”.

    I agree with SWIM on all counts.

  17. avatar Roymond says:

    I see what you did with that image!

    For those who didn’t recognize it, it’s a BBC “Universe” show image.

    Universe, universal. Cute.

  18. avatar bo says:

    our criminal status should either be free public domain, or attached to our identification. someone is pocketing a lot of profit and its all 100% profit. the paywall for background and CBI is unconstitutional and should be banned or at least fixed. we are being exploited and no one is saying a damn thing.

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