When President Obama stated during his press conference about gun violence that "as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check," he was repeating a theme quite popular with proponents of more restrictive gun laws. What he did not bother to mention, though, is that this figure stands on very shaky ground.
He failed to mention, for example, that the "40 percent" figure benefits from a generous rounding up -- the actual figure was 36 percent (actually 35.7 percent). He also failed to mention that this study was published in 1997, from data gathered in 1994.
In the 19 years since then, several states have implemented stricter background check laws, and some gun show promoters have voluntarily prohibited private sales. Additionally, the survey was conducted with only 251 respondents -- a tiny sample size. Furthermore, many of the respondents were uncertain as to whether the seller was a licensed dealer or a private seller. Finally, when one eliminates gifts, inheritance, etc., the percentage falls to 26.4.
These omitted details, by the way, come from the Washington Post's (hardly a source of pro-gun propaganda) Fact Checker. Economist and gun policy researcher John Lott has argued that the true figure is likely in single digits.
If we are going to discuss the merit of inviting federal government supervision of every gun sale -- the banning, in other words, of private sales -- should we not do so with the benefit of a full understanding of the facts?