A “Fact” About Gun Sales That Does Not Hold Up
In the latest round of debate over firearms, an often repeated “statistic” for those who want more restrictions is the following:
40 percent of all gun sales/purchases are conducted without a background check
The NY times uses it in an op-ed today (they falsely claim the 40 percent is made up of “Internet sales.” Though you can purchase firearms on the Internet, any such sale whether it is through a licensed dealer or a private seller, must be transferred through an FFL, who then must perform a background check).
Newly minted gun control advocate, Joe Scarborough has said it on ‘Morning Joe.’ Mayor Nanny Bloomberg repeats it constantly, and of course gun grabbing organizations such as The Brady Campaign use it constantly. President Obama himself said it yesterday when offering up his gun control proposals.
It’s one of these “facts” that just gets repeated so often that nobody bothers to check to see if its true.
And it’s not true. At the very least, it is very misleading for people to continue to repeat it. So the first question you’re probably wondering is, “Where did they get this information?”
It turns out, the figure comes from a brief put together by the National Institute of Justice in May of 1997. The relevant portion where people get the 40 percent figure comes from pages 6-7 where it says:
We conclude that approximately 60 percent of gun acquisitions involved an FFL and hence were subject to Federal regulations on such matters as out-of-State sales, criminal history checks, and recordkeeping. A somewhat higher percentage of handgun acquisitions than long gun acquisitions involved FFLs. The remaining acquisitions, amounting to about 2 million per year, were off-the-books transfers in the secondary market.
Note the language. It does not say “sales.” It says “acquisitions” and that is important. Let’s dig in a little further.
Let’s take a look at their handy little graphic:
Column on the right tells the story. Nearly 30% of the people who acquired firearms either received them as a gift or inherited them. That blows the “40% of guns sales are conducted without a background check” right out of the water on its own.
Some people might argue “acquisition” and “sale” is a distinction without a difference but that’s nonsense. I have a friend who is a police officer in Cobb County, GA. If his wife were to purchase him a new hunting rifle for Christmas, it would be silly for them make the transfer through an FFL. The same applies if I wanted to purchase a rifle for my son as gift or my next door neighbor who owns several types of firearms. It is already a federal offense to transfer a firearm to somebody that is ineligible to possess one. People want to break the law are going to do so. A background check is not going to stop them from illegally selling and/or purchasing a firearm.
So let’s look at those numbers more closely. 73% of gun owners say they purchased their firearms. Of that, 63% (not 60%) were purchased through the mail, at a gun store, a pawn shop or other store (other would be Wal-Mart, Gander Mountain, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc.).
They show that 4% purchased their guns at a gun show. The bulk of sales at gun shows are through FFL’s. But for the sake of the whiners, let’s split it down the middle. 2% at gun shows were through FFL’s and 2% through a private sale. 29% say they acquired their gun from a friend or family member. If we deduct the 24% who say they inherited their firearms or received it as a gift, that leaves us with 5% who purchased it from a family member or friend.
So that leaves 65% of guns purchased where a background check was required. 5% of sales were done between family members and friends without a check. Another 24% were given as gifts or inherited. That leaves the final 6% which were sold in other markets or acquired through a trade.
Even if we are generous and include sales between family members and friends, we are left with a figure of eleven percent. Not forty percent.
There will be some who say, “Well too bad! Eleven percent is still too much!” Well go ahead and make that argument and see if it wins. Problem is, it doesn’t sound as scary as the 40% figure because that allows people to conjure up images of millions of violent criminals purchasing firearms without undergoing a background check. But it just isn’t true.
Question is, will the media do their job and call this out?
I sincerely doubt it.