FACT CHECK: ‘Almost 50% Of Gun Sales Do Not Happen Through Federally Licensed Dealers’

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton claimed Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that “almost 50 percent of gun sales do not happen through federally licensed dealers.”

Verdict: False

Current research shows that a large majority of guns are sold through federally licensed dealers.

Fact Check:

By federal law, all gun dealers must obtain a license in order to sell firearms. There’s also a “secondary market” of unlicensed hobbyists who infrequently sell guns on the internet and elsewhere, and only 16 states regulate the private sale of these firearms.

Private sellers aren’t federally required to run background checks on buyers, so gun control advocates often use statistics about the proportion of unlicensed sellers to imply large gaps in background checks. A popular, but dubious claim is that 40 percent of guns are privately sold.

The estimate comes somewhat close to the “almost 50 percent” claimed by Moulton, but it’s an outdated statistic derived from a 1994 survey of gun owners. In addition, Moulton makes a claim about “gun sales,” but the survey asks about gun “transactions,” a broader term that counts inherited, gifted or traded guns as well.

The estimate changes substantially when counting purchased guns alone. Fellow fact-checkers at The Washington Post asked a co-author of the study to rerun the numbers for gun sales specifically, and he found that only 14 to 22 percent of gun purchases did not involve a background check.

Researchers at Harvard calculated a similar statistic in a February 2017 study funded by a gun control group. They found that only 13 percent of guns purchased within the last two years didn’t involve a background check.

The number is relatively low because, contrary to Moulton’s claim, a large majority of guns were purchased through licensed dealers. For example, 64 percent of gun transactions over the last two years, were purchases from a store.

Another 16 percent were purchases made over the internet, at gun shows or simply between friends or acquaintances. The remainder were non-purchased firearms that gun owners received as gifts or an inheritance.

Ninety-six percent of gun store purchases in the last two years involved a background check, while 100 percent of gun show sales, 55 percent of online sales and 23 percent of acquaintance sales involved a background check.

The Harvard study represents the first major research on gun purchases and background checks since the ’90s estimate. Readers should be cautious not to put too much stock in the results of one study, but TheDCNF found no current research supporting Moulton’s claim.

Moulton did not respond to a request for comment.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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