Just 22 percent of current gun owners who acquired a firearm within the past two years reported doing so without a background check, according to a new national survey by public health researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities shared in advance with The Trace and The Guardian.That is almost the same percentage that the Washington Post found (21%) when the paper's Fact Checker gave President Obama three Pinocchio's in 2013 for repeating the 40% statistic. At that time the Post went back and asked the authors of a Police Foundation report to rerun their numbers to adjust for how people acquire firearms (purchases versus “acquisitions” and “transactions,” which included trades, gifts etc.). But the President, Hillary Clinton, and the gun ban lobby have continued to use the 40% number.
For years, politicians and researchers have estimated that as many as 40 percent of gun sales are conducted without a background check — a statistic based on an extrapolation from a 1994 survey. The new survey, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that the current proportion of gun transfers conducted without a background check is about half of the oft-cited figure.
Could the lower number have something to do with why so few private sellers have taken advantage of voluntary background checks at Virginia gun shows since July? Could it be there really is no "bazaar" of guns available for sale without background checks at gun shows?
The gun ban lobby is already adjusting their talking points in light of the lower numbers.
Philip Cook, a prominent gun violence researcher at Duke University who conducted the 1994 survey, says the new, smaller estimate does not undermine the argument that the U.S. needs a federal law instituting universal background checks on gun sales. In fact, he says, the finding that a smaller number of guns are acquired without background checks could be an advantage for supporters of stricter gun control laws.The new study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“The headline is that we as a nation are closer to having a hundred percent of gun transactions with a background check than we might have thought,” says Cook. “So, it’s more attainable, and cheaper, to pass a universal requirement than it would be if 40 percent of transactions were still being conducted without these screenings.”