Leah Barkoukis

Sens. Manchin and Toomey announced their ‘compromise’ on expanding background checks Wednesday, which, among other things, closes the “gun show loophole.” By law, all federal firearms licensees are required to conduct background checks for firearms transactions—even at a gun show. But gun control advocates repeatedly say that 40 percent of all gun purchases at gun shows are private sales and thus, not subject to a background check. Where are they getting this figure from and is it true? Heritage weighs in:

As The Washington Post has pointed out, this 40 percent figure comes from a 1997 report by the National Institute of Justice, a research agency within the Department of Justice, and was based on a telephone survey sample of just 251 people who acquired firearms in 1993 and 1994. This was years before the NICS system went into effect. Of the 251 participants, 35.7 percent said that they didn’t or “probably” didn’t obtain their gun from a licensed firearms dealer. Because the margin of error was +/– 6 percentage points, it was rounded up to 40 percent, although it could just as easily and legitimately have been rounded down below 30 percent.

In addition, if you subtract people who said they got their gun as a gift, inheritance, or prize, the number dropped from 35.7 percent to 26.4 percent. And, in terms of how many people actually buy firearms at gun shows, the data from this same survey indicated that in 1994, only 3.9 percent of firearms purchases were made at gun shows.

So not only is this statistic extremely outdated, it’s also terribly exaggerated. NRA News commentator Colion Noir says the “gun show loophole” is just a red herring.

“Think about it,” he says. “Why would a vendor pay to set up shop at a gun show surrounded by competition if 40 percent of the people coming to the show are merely coming to the show to buy guns privately? I’ll tell you why—because it’s not true.” Continuing to use outdated and exaggerated data is not an argument, he says—it’s an agenda. 


Leah Barkoukis

Leah Barkoukis is the Managing Editor at Townhall Magazine.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography