Traveling to Colorado this week to push for new gun control legislation, President Barack Obama is being criticized for using an outdated, perhaps even inaccurate, statistic to sell universal background checks for gun buyers.
In a speech Obama gave last week, the President asked, “Why wouldn’t we want to make it more difficult for a dangerous person to get his or her hand on a gun? Why wouldn’t we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check?”
The statistic that 40 percent of all gun purchasers do not undergo background checks comes from a 1997 study by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), which based its findings on a relatively small sample set of only 251 people. The study showed that about 40 percent of gun acquisitions in the U.S. are not done through federally licensed dealers.
Coauthor of the NIJ study Philip Cook, a professor at Duke University, was asked if he still felt that statistic held water today.
“The answer is I have no idea,” Cook told PolitiFact. “This survey was done almost 20 years ago.”
The Fact Checker at The Washington Post points out that the study was on gun acquisitions and transactions, which can include gifts and trading, not “purchases” or “sales” as Obama refers to it in his speech and on Twitter.
The Senate bill to expand background checks makes an exception for a “bona fide gift” between family members, spouses, parents and children. New background checks also make an exception in the case of “the death of another person for whom the unlicensed transferor is an executor or administrator of an estate or a trustee of a trust created in a will.”
The National Rifle Association claims the statistic is a misrepresentation being touted to pass more background checks. The data set of 251 people came from a study done by the Police Foundation in 1994, the same year the Brady Act background checks went into effect.
“With this sample size, the 95 percent confidence interval will be plus or minus six percentage points,” The Fact Check wrote on Monday.
Fact Checker criticized the conclusions drawn from the data: “Moreover, when gifts, inheritances and prizes are added in, then the number shrinks to 26.4 percent.”
Other gun law advocates as using the same statistic, according to Fox News.
“The background checks bill is vitally important,” said New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand in a Jan. 24 interview. “It’s going to basically say you can’t buy guns without getting a background check. Today, about 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check.”
After the movie theatre massacre in July of last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “There’s a loophole where you can sell guns without a background check. Forty percent of guns are sold that way.”