Fact Check: Mark Kelly Claims 40% of Guns Are Bought Without a Background Check

Appearing on CNN’s “State of The Union,” gun control advocate Mark Kelly discussed the shooting at Umpqua Community College with host Jake Tapper.

During the segment, Kelly mentioned a statistic frequently used by proponents of gun control:

“One thing is really clear. We sell 40% of our guns without a background check. That means felons, [and] people who are dangerously mentally ill, have easy access to guns.”

It isn’t just Mark Kelly making this claim; numerous politicians have used this number to push for more restrictive gun laws. IJ did some digging, and found the origins of Kelly’s claim.

That number, that 40% of gun sales happen without a background check, comes from a 1997 analysis of a 1994 telephone survey.

Out of the 2,568 homes surveyed, only 251 people answered the question about where they obtained their firearms.

Politifact reports:

“…35.7 percent of respondents reported obtaining their gun from somewhere other than a licensed dealer.”

The “40 percent” cited by gun control advocates is rounded up.

Even more dubious than the survey’s small sample size is the time at which the data was taken. It was conducted in 1994, just as the Brady Law, which mandated that federally licensed firearm dealers perform background checks, was taking effect.

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post:

“In fact, the questions concerned purchases in 1993 and 1994, while [the] Brady law went into effect in early 1994.”

It’s unknown how much of an impact the Brady Law may have had on the numbers. According to Politifact, there are no studies to which the 1994 study can be compared because no comparable studies to have been conducted since 1994.

Given the small sample size, and the time at which the survey was taken, the “40 percent” statistic cited by Mark Kelly is questionable at best, and unverifiable at worst.

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