The gun control fanatics often repeat this lie: 40% of gun purchases aren’t subject to background checks as they are private transactions at gun shows.
Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act—which created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)—all federal firearms licensees are required to conduct a background check for all firearms transactions, even if they sell the firearm at a gun show. This is to make sure that the gun isn’t being sold to a person who is prohibited from purchasing a gun under Section 922(g) or (n) of Title 18 of the United States Code, which would include convicted felons, people who have been adjudicated to be severely mentally ill, and people who have been convicted of a domestic violence offense.
Wow, look at that. But wait, there’s more!
As The Washington Post has pointed out, this 40 percent figure comes from a 1997 report by the National Institute of Justice, a research agency within the Department of Justice, and was based on a telephone survey sample of just 251 people who acquired firearms in 1993 and 1994. This was years before the NICS system went into effect. Of the 251 participants, 35.7 percent said that they didn’t or “probably” didn’t obtain their gun from a licensed firearms dealer. Because the margin of error was +/– 6 percentage points, it was rounded up to 40 percent, although it could just as easily and legitimately have been rounded down below 30 percent.
In addition, if you subtract people who said they got their gun as a gift, inheritance, or prize, the number dropped from 35.7 percent to 26.4 percent. And, in terms of how many people actually buy firearms at gun shows, the data from this same survey indicated that in 1994, only 3.9 percent of firearms purchases were made at gun shows.
Citing this data as evidence of how many firearms are currently purchased through private sales not subject to background checks is akin to citing data about current seat belt usage that is derived from a limited sample taken years before a mandatory seat belt law went into effect or before cars were even required to have seat belts. We all know that, according to a phrase popularized by Mark Twain, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Citing such limited and outdated data over and over again on a matter of this magnitude, however, is going too far.