According to WaPo’s best calculations, the number of actual check-less sales is roughly half of what O would have you believe. Won’t change a thing about the current debate, though. Obama and Biden have said repeatedly that if new regulations would save just one extra life then they’re worth it. From that standpoint, 20 percent is the same as 40 percent is the same as 100 percent. In fact, Biden acknowledged last month that even if they got the assault-weapons ban through, it wouldn’t fundamentally alter the chances of the sort of mass shooting that ostensibly inspired the White House’s gun-control push in the first place. None of this is about careful examination of gun-violence data and figuring out a way to respond to it. It’s not even about careful examination of what happened in Newtown; if it was, the legislative focus would be on mental illness, not weapons. It’s about the White House seizing a crisis/opportunity to gain whatever legislative foothold they can for their evergreen gun-control agenda. Pass something now and then try to build on it later incrementally to bring the public around towards banning broader and broader categories of semiautomatics. To call O out for bad data, while welcome, is to miss the point.
Meanwhile, note the phrasing in the original report — “acquisitions” and “transactions,” which included trades, gifts and the like. But Obama spoke of “gun purchases,” and his tweet referred to “gun sales.”
Why is it important to make a distinction between purchases and transactions? For one thing, the Senate bill that would expand background checks — supported by the White House — specifically makes an exception for “a bona fide gift between immediate family members, including spouses, parents, children, siblings” as well as “the death of another person for whom the unlicensed transferor is an executor or administrator of an estate or a trustee of a trust created in a will.” As noted above, such transactions can change the results.
The Police Foundation report did not break out gun purchases, so in January we asked Ludwig to rerun the data, just looking at guns purchased in the secondary market. The result, depending on the definition, was 14 percent to 22 percent. That’s at least half the percentage repeatedly cited by Obama.
Since our initial report on this statistic appeared, The Washington Post in February included a question on background checks on a survey of Maryland residents, asking whether they went through a background check during a gun purchase in the past 10 years. The result? Twenty-one percent say they did not.