It’s a statistic that President Barack Obama and gun control advocates like to repeat again and again: Forty percent of gun purchases are made without background checks.
It’s true that purchases at gun shows and via the Internet typically go without background checks. But is it 40 percent? It’s difficult for us fact-checkers to say, because it’s based on a telephone survey from 1994 - almost 20 years ago.
That’s about the time federally sponsored research on guns and gun violence virtually ground to a halt.
The stoppage was intentional — and political. The National Rifle Association successfully lobbied members of Congress to cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to pass amendments discouraging gun research.
For years now, congressional directives have stated that money for research may not be used “to advocate or promote control.” Researchers are warned that no money may go to (research) activity designed to affect the passage of legislation that restricts or controls firearms.
The NRA has proudly claimed credit for these moves, saying that federally funded research was biased against gun ownership.
“The problem that I see with what the CDC is doing is that they are not doing medicine, they’re doing politics. And they shouldn’t be doing politics,” NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said in 1995.
For years, the CDC has given the NRA a courtesy “heads up” any time it publishes studies related to firearms.
The dwindling federal research complicates efforts to fact-check claims about gun statistics. PolitiFact rated the 40 percent gun statistic Half True, after one of the original study’s co-authors told us he had “no idea” if the “very old number” was still a good estimate.
Since the federal government was elbowed out of the gun-research business, nonprofits that advocate against gun violence are now the main funders. This means that much of today’s research is being funded by groups that have staked out clear positions on gun policy.