Sen. Graham Uses Incomplete Data On Background Check Prosecutions


“Well, 80,000 people failed a background check last year or two years ago. Nine thousand were felons on the run from the law and not one of them was arrested or prosecuted.” So charged presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on CNN last week. The Washington Post Fact Checker chides Graham for “spreading this misinformation” that he also talked about two years ago. This time, he repeatedly brought up the factoid during an interview about the mass shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C.

Graham was referring to 2010 data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), checks done through either the FBI or state agencies. The data have not been updated since then. That FBI figures actually show nearly 14,000 fugitives were denied gun permits in 2010, not 9,000 as Graham said. In 2010, the FBI referred about 76,000 denials of firearms to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In the end, only 62 cases were referred for prosecution, and there were 13 guilty pleas. But the real story is that most who fail background checks are state fugitives, many of whom are prosecuted on state, not federal charges. In other words, Graham is citing incomplete data.

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