FACT CHECK: Has The DOJ Successfully Denied More Than 500 Illegal Gun Purchases To People Under 21?

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

In a Jan. 5 post shared on X, President Joe Biden claimed the Department of Justice (DOJ) has successfully denied over 500 illegal gun purchases to people under 21 years old.

Verdict: True

In a recent press release, the DOJ confirmed it had prevented 527 firearms from being sold to “dangerous and prohibited persons” as of the first week of January 2024.

Fact Check:

Biden will deliver his State of the Union address Mar. 7, according to CNN. The address will focus on multiple issues, including protecting the Affordable Care Act and relieving student debt, the outlet reported.

“Thanks to the enhanced background checks enacted by my historic gun safety law, the Justice Department has now successfully denied more than 500 illegal gun purchases by people under 21 years old who presented a danger to our communities. This legislation is saving lives,” Biden wrote in the X post, which has garnered over 800,000 views.

The claim is true. White House and DOJ spokespersons directed Check Your Fact to a recent DOJ press release indicating the department has prevented 527 firearms from being sold to “dangerous and prohibited persons” as of the first week of January 2024 using enhanced background checks via the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). The BSCA requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) “to conduct an enhanced background check before any sale or transfer of a firearm to a person under the age of 21,” the same release indicates.

The BSCA also denies the sale of firearms to individuals under 21 who have been convicted of rape or are “a suspect in an attempted murder case and someone who had been involuntarily committed for mental-health treatment,” the Roanoke Times reported, citing the DOJ. (RELATED: Did Nikki Haley Rank No. 1 Among Governors In Chinese Investment In 2015?)

A spokesperson for the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium directed Check Your Fact to a 2022 NICS operations report, which states that the BSCA makes amendments to 18 and Title 34 U.S.C. allowing for enhanced background checks on individuals ages 18-20. Using the amendments to 34 U.S.C 40901, the state criminal history repository or juvenile justice system, the state custodian of mental health adjudications, and local law enforcement are contacted to see if the individual has a record that would disqualify them from obtaining a firearm, according to the report.

Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1994, “federally licensed gun dealers are required to contact the FBI to run a background check” on an individual who is attempting to purchase a firearm. The FBI subsequently checks NICS to see if the individual is prohibited from buying a firearm.

Tanya Schardt, senior counsel at Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a pro-gun control organization, told Check Your Fact via phone that individuals under the age of 21 are at a “higher risk of engaging in dangerous activity.”

“There’s a lot of evidence suggesting individuals under 21 are at higher risk for engaging in dangerous activity. Mass shootings, in particular school shootings, are carried out all too often by those who are often still teenagers and have access to firearms. For example, in the cases of Parkland and Uvalde, both shooters had evidence of past behavior indicative of heightened risk and yet both shooters were able to legally purchase firearms. Had this law been in place then, they could’ve been prevented or precluded from purchasing firearms,” Schardt explained.

Peer-reviewed research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience indicates adolescents and young adults are more likely to engage in risky behaviors because of hormonal changes as well as the fact that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which oversees functions such as judgment and impulse control, is not fully developed until age 26.

In addition, individuals between 12-24 years old account for a little less than half of total firearm homicides, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, citing data from the DOJ. FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports data from 2016-2020 shows individuals ages 18-24 represented 17.9% of known homicide offenders in 2018 and 24.2% of known homicide offenders in 2020.

Furthermore, data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows “18-25-year-olds had the highest prevalence of any mental illness” (33.7%) compared to adults between 26-49 (28.1%) and 50 or older (15.0%) in 2021. Schardt directed Check Your Fact to both the journal article and the data.

In a set of Jan. 5 remarks, Attorney General Merrick Garland revealed the DOJ had already charged over 300 defendants under the BSCA.

“We are making good use of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022, known as BSCA, which expanded our authority to prosecute firearms traffickers and straw purchasers who buy guns for those barred by the law from possessing them. We have already charged over 300 defendants under that authority,” Garland said.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco made similar remarks on Jan. 5, labeling the BSCA the “most significant gun safety legislation passed in 30 years.” A DOJ spokesperson directed Check Your Fact to both sets of remarks.

Aidan Johnston, federal affairs director at the Gun Owners of America (GOA), a pro-gun rights organization, criticized the BSCA, saying it has “brought about de facto waiting periods.”

“The law was supposed to enhance the background check system and encourage local law enforcement to submit more types of records, including certain mental health records that would otherwise not have been included, for 18-20-year olds. Instead, the law has brought about de facto waiting periods, which we’ve alleged in [a May 2023] lawsuit, and this is unconstitutional. A right delayed is a right denied,” Johnston said.

Likewise, Johnston mentioned the DOJ’s alleged weaponization of the BSCA to fund red flag laws in states that don’t currently have them, as was also pointed out in a July 2023 letter sent by Congress to the department. He also highlighted not-yet implemented provisions in the law including one that allows federal firearms licensees to use NICS to screen current and prospective employees to ensure that they are not prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition.

Finally, Johnston noted that the NICS system is not without error, as 2014 data on background checks from the Crime Prevention Research Center which states that there is an “implies an initial false positive rate of roughly 94.2%” for cases referred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) field offices.

In addition to his Jan. 5 X post, Biden also released a statement shared via the White House Briefing Room touting his administration’s efforts to combat gun violence through the BSCA.

“This historic legislation is working to keep guns out of the hands of young people who shouldn’t have them in the first place, for common sense reasons like criminal records or because they have been determined to be a danger to themselves or others. By interrupting these illegal gun purchases, we are taking action to stop suicides, deadly domestic violence, and mass shootings,” Biden said in part.

A White House spokesperson directed Check Your Fact to Biden’s statement.

The BSCA was passed in 2022 in the aftermath of several mass shootings, including one at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed, according to The Associated Press.

Check Your Fact has contacted various think tanks for comment and will update this piece accordingly if responses are provided.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter