Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 23, 2013

Guns acquired without background checks


The Line: 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check.

The Party: Democratic gun-control advocates

Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series called “Party Lines” that will highlight misleading talking points by both parties.

After the December mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., several Democrats advocating for stricter gun-control laws - including a law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases - took to using this talking point to support their case. In a Jan. 16 speech on gun violence, President Barack Obama, for example, claimed that “as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.” The president’s gun-control plan, “Now Is The Time,” also says that “studies estimate that nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from this requirement.”

But that figure is based on an analysis of a nearly two-decade-old survey of less than 300 people that essentially asked participants whether they thought the guns they had acquired - and not necessarily purchased - came from a federally licensed dealer. And one of the authors of the report often cited as a source for the claim - Philip Cook of Duke University - told our friends at that he has “no idea” whether the “very old number” applies today or not.

Even Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged that the statistic may not be accurate in a speech at a mayoral conference on Jan. 17. Biden prefaced his claim that “about 40 percent of the people who buy guns today do so outside the … background check system” by saying that “because of the lack of the ability of federal agencies to be able to even keep records, we can’t say with absolute certainty what I’m about to say is correct.”

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