AP Fact-Check Finds an Often-Cited Gun Stat Is Dated and Sketchy


The Associated Press fact-checks a prominent claim that 40 percent of gun sales take place without background checks, a statistic cited frequently by gun-control advocates. But the statistic is 20 years old and was not much more than an educated guess at the time, the AP says. The figure comes from a 1994 poll on gun ownership in America sponsored by the Justice Department through a grant to the Police Foundation.

The research reported on the nature of gun acquisitions made in 1993 and 1994, asking people who had obtained guns then where the guns had come from and whether they thought the source was a federally licensed dealer. Transactions through licensed dealers were considered covered by the background check system, which was just then coming into effect. Although the survey interviewed more than 2,500 Americans, just 251 had acquired guns during that time frame, a small sampling from which to make a general conclusion. In all, 64 percent of those respondents reported acquiring a gun from a source they thought to be a licensed dealer, suggesting that 36 percent of gun acquisitions were in the secondary and unregulated market. Due to some ambiguities, the study’s researchers estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of the acquisitions were off the books and would not have been subjected to a background check.

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