For months we've heard President Obama and his fellow gun control zealots using the line, "40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check." We've heard anti-gunners make this claim under oath in congressional testimony and on primetime television. The problem? The 40 percent figure is an old and bogus statistic that was debunked a long time ago.
In January, the Washington Post fact checker gave Obama two pinocchios for using the figure.
Rather than being 30 to 40 percent (the original estimate of the range) or “up to 40 percent” (Obama’s words), gun purchases without background checks amounted to 14 to 22 percent. And since the survey sample is so small, that means the results have a survey caveat: plus or minus six percentage points.
Moreover, as we noted before, the survey was taken in late 1994, eight months after the Brady law went into effect, and the questions were asked about gun purchases in the previous two years. So some of the answers concerned gun purchases that took place in a pre-Brady environment.
Despite the figure being false, Obama has been using it to push for more gun control and will likely use it again today during his trip to Colorado where he we call for federal legislation criminilizing the private transfer of firearms.
During a speech last week, Obama 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? Why wouldn’t we do that?”
The oft-cited figure, it turns out, was pulled from a 1997 study done by the National Institute of Justice. In the study, researchers estimated about 40 percent of all firearm sales took place through people other than licensed gun dealers. The conclusion was based on data from a 1994 survey of 2,568 households. Of those, only 251 people answered the question about where they got their guns.
PolitiFact tracked down the co-author of the study, Duke University professor Philip Cook, and asked him if he thought the 40 percent estimate is accurate.
“The answer is I have no idea,” Cook reportedly told PolitiFact.