Firearm Fact Check
last updated: April 28, 2014
Below are most of the most common misconceptions about guns and gun laws. If you know of any we are missing please feel free to contact us.
Buying a gun has required a background check since the Brady act was signed in 1994. Under this law, federally licensed firearm dealers must verify the buyer is not a prohibited person (meaning never convicted of a serious crime or judged as mentally incompetent) or is blocked from buying a gun for about 10 other reasons. You can view the form 4473 (required by law to purchase a gun) and look at the questions in section 11. Answering yes to any of those questions prevents you from buying a gun.
The law does not generally apply to private gun sales. These type sales are regulated by state laws and can be view on our private firearm transfer laws page. However if a seller suspects a potential buyer would fail a background check they can not go through with the sale.
The study used to perpetuate this so-called fact is a 1997 study by the National Institute of Justice. The study estimated about 40 percent of all firearm sales took place through people other than federal firearm dealers. This conclusion was based on a 1994 survey of 2,568 households. In that survey only 251 people answered the question about the origin of the gun.
An ATF report in 1999 on gun shows stated that investigators found that 25% of vendors at gun shows were private individuals, not licensed dealers. They also reported 'felons and other prohibited persons who want to avoid Brady Act checks and records of their purchase buy firearms at these shows.' and went on to say some guns from these shows had been used in drug related crimes.
A 2011 investigation by the city of New York of internet gun sales reported on 10 websites they found more than 25,000 weapons available. The report further stated that 62% of sellers allowed a sale to go through even when the buyer stated they didn't think they could pass a background check.
But even within their own report the city stated 'Private sales to in-state buyers are almost completely unregulated by federal law. No background check and no record of sale are required. Sellers typically ship the guns by mail or meet the buyer in person.'
What is interesting about the NYC report is they claim this huge percentage of sellers willing to sell to someone who may not pass a background check yet they only examined 125 private sellers from 14 states who advertised on 10 different websites (see report). They also targeted websites 'that have relatively few rules requiring buyers and sellers to identify themselves, and may therefore be more attractive to prohibited or unscrupulous purchasers'. Their final finding was 'Seventy-seven of 125 online sellers agreed to sell a gun to someone who said they could not pass a background check - a 62% fail rate'. They also reported 'Investigators met five of the sellers who failed the integrity test to exchange the gun for cash. All five sales were completed'.
So of the thousands upon thousands of online gun sellers the NYC 'facts' are based on a tiny percentage of sellers, enough to question the veracity of the report.
Conclusion: This so-called fact is based on reports that are over 12 years old and were questionable at best. The NYC findings appear to only show a tiny slice of online sales and also appear to have been directly targeted towards questionable sellers. Not taking in the entire scope of online sales, to us, is a disservice at best. Had NYC taken that 125 dealers and then averaged them with the total number of online dealers the report would have carried much more weight. The truth is no one knows for sure how many guns are sold or traded without a background check, and even then state laws allowing such sales, as well as inner family sales (which almost never require a background check) could bring the numbers down to a fraction of what is commonly stated.
In making the case for her proposed 2013 legislation Senator Feinstein stated several so-called 'facts':
- The US Had witnessed an increased number of mass killings
- The one common thread running through these mass shootings - from Aurora, Colorado, to Tucson, Arizona, to Blacksburg, Virginia - is that the gunman used a 'military-style semi-automatic assault weapon or a large capacity magazine to inflict unspeakable terror.'
The claim that mass shootings are on the rise in the US is not even close to the truth and she knows it. According to the Associated Press those who study mass shootings say they are not on the rise.
'There is no pattern, there is no increase,' says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston's Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices. He goes on to say 'The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest'.
Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century. He went on to say 'chances of being killed in a mass shooting, he says, are probably no greater than being struck by lightning.'
Anti-gun advocates claim that 'six of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history have occurred since 2007, with the Newtown massacre ranking second on that list.' The fact is mass killing peaked in 1929. As far as more current events reason.com has a graph that clearly shows incidents, offenders and victims of these type crimes peaked between 2003-2004 and have stayed well below those highs in the following years. What is even more notable is that the 1994 'Assault Weapon' ban expired in 2004.
Secondly, her claim that banning these type of firearms would lead to a decrease in mass shootings is again nothing more than political rhetoric, and again she knows it. A study by the University of Pennsylvania claimed the loopholes in the 1994 law undermined the law's effectiveness and then went on to state 'the law appeared to have little effect on gun violence, not least because assault weapons were used in just a small portion of gun crimes'.
Even the FBI's own statistics on gun crime in the US show that in 2011 of the 12,664 murder victims only 323 were caused by rifles, that .025% of all gun related murders, literally half of the amount of murders committed by hands and feet.
Lastly, she argued that semi-automatic 'assault weapons' were a common thread in mass shootings. While Newtown shooter Adam Lanza reportedly (the final report is due out in June of 2013) used an AR-15 Aurora shooter James Holmes AR-15 jammed. He also carried 2 Glock handguns and a shotgun that he used once the rifle jammed. Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter used a Glock 19 pistol with an extended 30 round magazine. The shooting at Virginia Tech, perpetuated by Seung-Hui Cho, was the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in US history leaving 32 dead and 17 wounded. Seung-Hui Cho used two handguns, a Walther P22 and a Glock 19. He had 15 a round magazine in the Glock and a 10 round magazine in the Walther. Reportedly he had several other 10 round magazines for the Walter. (the limit Feinstein's new bad calls for)
According to Jordan Hunter, director of marketing for Daniel Defense, semi-automatic weapons are not the most common used weapons in mass shootings. 'We tracked 62 mass shootings wherein 5 or more people were either shot or killed from the early 1980's to now; 41 times pistols were used, 12 times shotguns or some type of hunting-style rifle was used, and 9 times semi-automatic rifles were used (14 percent)' source.
Even the list of weapons proposed to be banned contains many handguns, guns that could never by any stretch of the imagination be construed as an assault weapon.
When arguing for the 1994 ban she said 'Semi-automatic assault weapons are turning America's streets into war zones. True, they are not responsible for a large number of homicides'. After the ban was passed she told the San Diego Union-Tribune on January 30, 1994 that the guns she wanted to ban were rarely used in crime:
Union-Tribune: 'The FBI's uniform crime statistics for 1992, the last year for which we have data, show that fewer than three percent of all homicides in the United States were committed with any kind rifle, including hunting rifles and .22 calibers. Do you challenge those statistics?'
Feinstein: 'I don't doubt that at all, but there will be more. I'm not willing to wait.'
Union-Tribune: 'The incidence of crimes committed with any kind of rifle is actually declining, down 30 percent during the last decade. Do you have any data showing these types of guns are a serious law enforcement problem?'
Feinstein: '[Your] data is [sic] probably correct at this point. It is probably less than three percent. I have no doubt in the next 10 years it is going to climb, and I am not willing to wait.' [Note: The three percent figure noted by the newspaper referred to rifles of all types, not only those that anyone has labeled as 'assault weapons.']'
The 'fact is' Diane Feinstein is a rabid anti-gun legislator that is determined to remove every gun from the hands of the American people. While she claims to support the 2nd amendment she has publicly stated she would love nothing more than to ban every firearm in the country. Take a look at video of her then and now and judge for yourself!
Conclusion: There is no evidence whatsoever that banning these type weapons will reduce crime or prevent another mass shooting.
This is one of the most often used 'facts' anti-gun groups spout but according to multiple studies by multiple organizations it just doesn't hold up. A 1991 study by two criminologists, Prof. Don Kates and Prof. Gary Mauser for Harvard University actually concluded the exact opposite stating 'Contrary to conventional wisdom, and the sniffs of our more sophisticated and generally anti-gun counterparts across the pond, the answer is 'no.' And not just no, as in there is no correlation between gun ownership and violent crime, but an emphatic no, showing a negative correlation: as gun ownership increases, murder and suicide decreases.' They went on to say 'Nations with stringent anti-gun laws generally have substantially higher murder rates than those that do not.'
The study found that the nine European nations with the lowest rates of gun ownership, with 5,000 or fewer guns per 100,000 population, have a combined murder rate that is three times higher than that of the nine nations with the highest rates of gun ownership.
Norway has the highest gun ownership rate in western Europe, yet they enjoy the lowest murder rate. Holland, on the other hand has a murder rate that is nearly the worst in Europe while they have the lowest rate of gun ownership. Sweden and Denmark also suffer from high murder rates when very few own guns. The report goes on to state 'If the mantra \"more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death\" were true, broad cross-national comparisons should show that nations with higher gun ownership per capita consistently have more death. Nations with higher gun ownership rates, however, do not have higher murder or suicide rates than those with lower gun ownership. Indeed many high gun ownership nations have much lower murder rates.'
The report goes on to show that Russia's murder rate is four times higher than the United States and more than 20 times higher than Norway. This is a country that has virtually eradicated private gun ownership over the years.
Other countries have also seen either no reduction in violent crime, or an increase in violent crime after banning guns. Australia banned all semi-automatic, automatic weapons and shotguns in 1996 but their own statistics show no drop in violent crime, they have actually had an overall increase in many of the reported years.
Even our own Justice Department has publicly stated that US homicide rates have fallen to the lowest rate in four decades. But how is that possible with the largest surge in private gun ownership ever seen?
Even the well respected CATO Institute has come out to disprove this claim.
Conclusion: All too often gun control advocates use selective 'facts' to push their agenda and push them onto the media which all too often mimics them instead of investigating them. There is no proof whatsoever that reducing (or eliminating) guns does anything to reduce violent crime or homicide rates.
This one is probably the grand daddy of all and is 'shouted from the rooftops' by every anti-gun advocate on the planet. The fact is we have plenty of laws on the books right now, many of which are ignored by law enforcement.
Anyone that lies on form 4473 (a form that must be filled out when buying a gun) commits a felony. Yet the federal government, as well as many state and local police agencies feel it is a waste of time to convict these people. The Sandy Hook shooter was denied to legally purchase a gun by the NICS system just days before he went on his terror spree. If he lied on the form (we are not sure he did but something triggered the rejection) and was immediately arrested we might have prevented that terrible tragedy.
Another term that has been thrown around is 'Straw purchase', or 'Straw Man Purchase'. This is when a person who is not prohibited buys a gun with the intent to sell the gun to someone they know is prohibited. This again falls back on the buyer lying on form 4473 because they know they are going to turn around and sell the gun to someone who is prohibited. Again this falls back onto enforcing existing laws and prosecuting anyone that is caught lying on these forms.
And while congress debates more gun laws and background checks they have yet to fully fund the NICS system.
In 2007 Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act which created incentives for states to improve the reporting of mental health information into the background check system. NICS is the national database that provides background checks on anyone purchasing a gun. But while many of these same politicians now call for better background checks they don't bother to tell anyone that Congress has only provided 5.3% of the funding that was authorized by this 2007 law. Even the rabid anti-gun organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns has called out Congress on this yet nothing has been done to follow through on the law. States have made little or no progress because simply the money promised by the law was never delivered.
These upgrades to the system, if funded, would make it easier for states to report metal issues that could prevent someone like the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech shootings, who had a record of mental issues, to be stopped from obtaining guns legally.
Furthermore there are laws concerning murder, theft, rape, robbery and all the other things criminals do. What is the difference between being murdered by a knife, a bat or a gun? Murder is murder and it is a crime. All to often we hear about crimes being committed by criminals with a long history of offenses. If the criminal prosecution system would convict and incarcerate these habitual criminals instead of letting them walk after a short stint crime could very well drop to historic levels.
Conclusion: There are enough existing laws on the books to cover any criminal action someone can take. Existing laws need to be enforced, not avoided.
Another favorite of the anti-gun agenda, this myth has been disproved more times than we can count but it keeps coming back. FBI statistics show the average number of rounds fired in the course of a criminal shooting is 3.5, well below the 10 round cap many have proposed. (note: reference on page 90 table 9-1)
Secondly all someone needs to do is carry multiple magazines, as did the Virginia Tech shooter. Changing out a magazine literally takes seconds for anyone who has handled a weapon for any length of time. This has been well documented in a video provided by Sheriff Ken Campbell of Boone County, Indiana
On the other side of the coin if someone is trying to protect themselves and their family against a home invasion or other intruders limited magazine capacity could put them in danger. Precious seconds could be lost while lives are at stake, especially if there are multiple attackers if they are limited to a small capacity magazine. Someone faced with multiple intruders would have little time to reload their weapon, if they even had multiple magazines that were easily accessible.
Conclusion: Banning these type magazines will have little or no effect on criminals, while they may in fact stop law abiding citizens from protecting themselves from would be attackers.
Over the past several years anti-gun organizations have started to focus on state 'preemption' laws, claiming that they are dangerous and stop cities from preventing gun violence. As with most anti-gun arguments they ignore the basis for such laws and twist the facts to meet their agenda.
Preemption laws are created by the state so that law abiding citizens do not have to 'navigate' a myriad of local patchwork laws. If every local government were allowed to create any gun law they wanted a citizen of the state, or even worse a visitor to the state, would have to know every law from every municipality they might travel through. Otherwise law abiding citizens could in fact become felons just by driving into a town or city where they are unaware of local laws.
As an example imagine if each town, city or municipality were allowed to set their own limits on the amount of alcohol a person could have in their system. A person in town 'A' attends a party 4 towns over and has a few beers. During the ride back to his home town he has to travel through 3 different municipalities and each one has their own limit and sets up check points. The town he lives in allows a .9 limit, the town he drank in allows a .8 but one town between his destination and home has a 'zero tolerance' policy for drunk driving and has enacted a .5 blood alcohol limit with incredibly strict sentencing polices for anyone caught over that limit. The person is stopped, 'blows' a .7, is arrested and convicted under this zero tolerance policy and his life is destroyed.
Preemption laws are created for this very reason. State legislators know it is unreasonable for the average citizen to be able to know every local law in their state, as well as other states they may travel too. More so it is beyond unreasonable to think visitors to your state should (or could) know the gun laws for every municipality within your state.
Conclusion: Allowing local governments to pass any type of firearm law they wish would do nothing to stop gun crime, it would only endanger law-abiding gun owners.