Background Checks Myths, Debunked

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It’s been one year since HR 8 passed the House—yet Mitch McConnell has yet to bring it up for a vote. The gun lobby does its best to spread false information about universal background checks. We’re here to set the record straight with facts, not fear.

Here’s the reality today: a convicted domestic abuser or other violent criminal can buy a gun, no questions asked, at a gun show, online, or through a person-to-person sale. Under current federal law, the seller in these situations has no obligation to run a background check. H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, will close these dangerous loopholes in our federal background checks system. Introduced on January 8, 2019, H.R. 8 passed the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support on February 27. It’s long past time for the Senate to take up H.R. 8. 

The gun lobby wants you to believe that universal background checks are invasive, unnecessary, and unpopular, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Universal background checks present little inconvenience to law-abiding gun owners, and they’re a critical step towards saving lives from gun violence supported by more than 90% of Americans.

I know what it’s like to come face to face with dangerous people who shouldn’t have a gun. I was an ATF special agent for 25 years. I wore a bulletproof vest and carried a firearm trying to keep illegal guns off our streets. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act is a huge step towards achieving that goal.

Scroll down to uncover the facts about background checks and H.R. 8.

Myth: “Criminals don’t follow the law, so this bill won’t stop criminals from getting guns.”

Fact: Background checks have stopped over three million gun sales or transfers to prohibited buyers since 1994.

This gun lobby mantra doesn’t make sense. Should we repeal all of our laws because criminals sometimes violate them? This bill would focus on the firearms suppliers who don’t currently conduct background checks, rather than focusing on the buyer, and would reduce the easy availability of guns to criminals.

Myth: “This bill infringes on Second Amendment rights.”

Fact: Courts have consistently upheld strong firearms regulations that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

This bill doesn’t infringe on the right of Americans to own guns to protect themselves and their families. Nothing in the Constitution requires America’s leaders to stand idly by while more people die from gun violence each year than die from military combat overseas. In fact, the opposite is true: courts have consistently upheld strong firearms regulations that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

Myth: “Background checks are already required.”

Fact: Millions of people obtain guns each year with no questions asked.

Under current law, unlicensed sellers—like people who sell guns online, at gun shows, or anywhere else without a federal dealer’s license—can sell firearms without having to run any background check whatsoever. A 2017 study estimated that 22% of US gun owners acquired their most recent firearm without a background check—which translates to millions of people obtaining millions of guns, no questions asked, each year.

Myth: “Congress could prevent mass shootings if they focused on mental health services instead.”

Fact: The vast majority of people with a mental health diagnosis are not dangerous to others.

The Senate should focus on making it harder for any potentially dangerous individual to obtain firearms and cause harm to themselves or others by passing H.R. 8, enacting extreme risk legislation to empower law enforcement and family members to temporarily remove firearms from a person in crisis, and passing safe storage laws to ensure that firearms are only used by their rightful owners.

Myth: “We just need to enforce the laws already on the books.”

Fact: Enforcing the laws on the the books is exactly what H.R. 8 does.

The best way to enforce the laws on the books is to ensure that individuals already prohibited from possessing firearms are unable to purchase them. Many guns used in crimes are obtained from unlicensed sources that don’t require a background check. H.R. 8 will ensure that current laws prohibiting dangerous people from purchasing firearms are enforced by requiring a background check for every gun sale.

Myth: “This bill would make criminals out of law-abiding citizens.”

Fact: If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you can pass a background check.

The background checks system is designed to identify and deny gun sales to certain people based on their criminal records, records of domestic violence or drug abuse, and history of mental illness. Background checks are almost always accurate and rarely provide false-positive results: the FBI’s quality control evaluations suggest that background checks are accurate approximately 99.3% to 99.8% of the time. They’re also quick and easy: More than 90% of background checks are processed immediately—in most instances, within 90 seconds.

Myth: “This bill won’t reduce gun violence.”

Fact: If there are loopholes, violent criminals will exploit them.

A 2013 study found that approximately 80% of all firearms acquired for criminal purposes came from sources that who were not required to run a background check. It also found that 96% of inmates who were prohibited from possessing a firearm at the time they committed their crime obtained their gun this way. Gun violence is a complex and multifaceted problem, which can only be addressed with a number of solutions. Strongly enforced and universal background checks are a necessary foundation to ensure that all of our gun laws work effectively.

Myth: “The danger of unlicensed gun sales is exaggerated.”

Fact: Gun deaths in the United States have reached their highest level in nearly 40 years.

Nearly 40,000 Americans died from gun violence in 2017—that’s more than 100 people every day. Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other developed nations. In fact, no other developed country comes close. Sales and transfers of guns without background checks are a major contributor to this problem.

No matter what the gun lobby says, this bill simply ensures that those already prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm are unable to purchase one. Over 90% of Americans agree with the fundamental premise that no one should be able to buy a gun if they can’t pass a background check. Now, the Senate has an opportunity to act on it—but first, Mitch McConnell needs to bring the bill up for a vote.

If you want to help build a safer America, call your senators and ask them to demand that Mitch McConnell call a vote on H.R. 8.

For more myths and facts, check out our full factsheet.