WaPo Fact Checkers Trash Bernie Sanders for False Claims About 'Gun Show Loophole'

Posted: Feb 21, 2018 1:30 PM
WaPo Fact Checkers Trash Bernie Sanders for False Claims About 'Gun Show Loophole'

In the week since the Florida school shooting, liberal politicians and journalists have been shamelessly pushing lies and misinformation to convince Americans that more stringent gun control is essential to protect the public. For the most part, these falsehoods tend to go uncorrected, as they are repeated so often and by so many people that it would be impossible for anyone trying to stay sane to find and counter each and every example.

Thus, when The Washington Post’s fact checker went after Bernie Sanders yesterday for repeating long-debunked claims about the existence of a massive “gun show loophole,” it was somewhat refreshing to see. The Vermont senator provoked the Post’s ire by going on NBC’s "Meet the Press" and citing a false statistic that 40 percent of all guns in the U.S. are sold without conducting a federal background check (click here for the video, comments start around 18:30):

CHUCK TODD: Let me move to the tragedy down in South Florida. After Newtown, you said: “If you passed the strongest gun control legislation tomorrow, I don’t think it will have a profound effect on the tragedies we have seen.” And senator, you ended up voting for some of those reforms, gun control measures that you weren’t 100 percent sure would solve all the problems. Where are you today? Do you think now-?

SEN. SANDERS: [interrupting] Hey Chuck! Chuck! Let’s be very clear. Hey Chuck! Let’s be very clear. I have a D minus voting record from the NRA. I lost an election, probably, for congress here in Vermont back in 1988 because I believe that we should not be selling or distributing assault weapons in this country. I am on record and have been for a very long time in saying we have gotta significantly tighten up the background checks. We have to end the absurdity of the gun show loophole. 40 percent of the guns in this country are sold without any background checks. We have to deal with the straw man provision which allows people to legally buy guns and then distribute it. We gotta take on the NRA. And that is my view.

Sanders continued to ramble on about how “all over this country, parents are scared to death of what might happen when they send their kids to school” and stressed his support for banning or restricting the purchase of "assault weapons," but Chuck Todd never corrected Sanders on his factual errors. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler picked up that task instead:

We first encountered this statistic back in 2013, when President Barack Obama began using it in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. We were surprised to learn that the 40 percent statistic was based on one relatively small survey of 251 people about guns they obtained in 1993 and 1994, even though the Brady Law mandating background checks only went into effect in early 1994. So it was already rather stale.

The analysis concluded that 35.7 percent of respondents indicated that they did not receive their guns from a licensed firearms dealer. Rounding up gets you to 40 percent, although the survey sample is so small it could also be rounded down to 30 percent.


Upon further investigation of the 1993-1994 research, including rerunning the numbers to better distinguish between gun purchases and gifts, we learned that gun purchases without background checks amounted to 14 to 22 percent.

Why was such old data still being used 20 years later? Foes of gun control had thwarted extensive research on guns, so the number remained frozen in amber.

But Sanders now has even less of an excuse than Obama. That’s because in 2017, researchers at Harvard University and Northeastern University finally published a new survey — and they found that 22 percent of gun owners who reported obtaining a firearm in the previous two years did so without a background check. That’s almost half the percentage of the old figure.

Moreover, among purchased firearms, the figure was 13 percent. That’s one-third of Sanders’s 40 percent claim. Once again, nonpurchased firearms (such as those acquired via a gift or inheritance) accounted for a large share of the weapons obtained without a background check.

Though Sanders referred to the “gun show loophole,” not a single person surveyed said they obtained a weapon at a gun show without a background check.

Kessler concluded his fact check by ripping Sanders for “mischaracterizing” already “stale data” and awarding the senator four Pinocchios (the fact checker’s worst rating) before begging liberals to stop being stupid: “Please, folks, let’s keep this zombie stat buried from now on.”

I wouldn’t exactly count on that, especially since Sanders’s “gun show loophole” comment wasn’t the only falsehood that he told on Sunday. His subsequent claim about a “straw man provision which allows people to legally buy guns and then distribute [them]” is also a complete lie. No such “provision” exists. In fact, as anyone who has purchased a gun recently can tell you, all prospective gun owners who go through a federally licensed dealer have to sign a form affirming that they are not buying the gun for another person (known as a "straw purchase" for short). Of course, people can lie about this, but it's a federal crime to do so and the ATF does go after straw purchasers when they find them.

How exactly are people supposed to rationally debate gun control with liberals and progressives who are this comfortable with spreading blatant disinformation to the public?

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