22% of U.S. gun owners report purchasing a firearm without a background check

22% of U.S. gun owners report purchasing a firearm without a background check

1. A national survey found that 22% of U.S. gun owners reported purchasing a firearm in the last two years without a background check, which suggests that millions of U.S. adults are able to purchase a firearm without a background check.

2. The percentage of U.S. gun owners reporting purchasing a firearm without a background check was much higher for residents of states without private firearm sales regulations.

Evidence Rating Level: 4 (Below Average)

Study Rundown: Leading medical, legal, and law enforcement organizations strongly support legislation that requires background checks for private firearm sales, and over 90% of Americans favor universal background checks for firearms purchases. However, background checks for private firearm sales remain unrequired by most states. Due to lack of data, researchers depend on national surveys to approximate the proportion of U.S. gun owners who have purchased a gun without a background check. With the latest data being over 20 years old, the authors used a national survey to provide updated data regarding when, where, and how current U.S. gun owners acquired their latest gun and if a background check was involved in the transaction. The authors found that 22% of gun owners reported purchasing a firearm in the last two years without a background check. Although this percentage has declined from the 40% found in a 1994 survey, these findings suggest that millions of U.S. adults remain able to purchase a firearm without a background check. The authors also found that the percentage of U.S. gun owners reporting purchasing a firearm without a background check was much higher for residents of states without private firearm sales regulations.

Limitations of the study include recall and social desirability bias. In addition, gun owners may have purchased their firearm in a state with private-sales laws differing from the state of residence at the time of the survey, which the authors assumed to be the state where the firearm was purchased.

Click to read the study, published today in Annals of Internal Medicine

Click to read an accompanying editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine

Relevant Reading: Support for new policies to regulate firearms – Results of two national surveys

In-Depth [survey]: The authors designed a web-based survey that was administered by the survey firm Growth for Knowledge (GfK). Participants were chosen from GfK’s KnowledgePanel, a group of about 55 000 U.S. adults with equal probability of selection. An April 2015 survey analyzed gun ownership patterns and asked whether or not a purchase made in the previous 2 years included a background check. A November 2015 survey invited gun owners who responded to the April 2015 survey to answer questions regarding timing of their most recent firearm purchase. 1613 respondents completed both surveys. Of gun owners who purchased a firearm within the past 2 years, 22% (95%CI 16% to 27%) did so without a background check. Gun purchases made at a gun show, online, or between individuals were considered to be private sales. For private sales, 50% (CI 35% to 65%) of purchases were done without a background check. State-level analysis coded states as having a private sales law (which usually requires a criminal history background check) as long as such a law was enacted by 1 July 2013. The percentage of gun owners who made a purchase without a background check was 26% (CI 5% to 47%) and 57% (CI 40% to 75%) for those living in states with and without private sale regulations, respectively.

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