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Archive of July 25, 2012, fact-check of Michael Bloomberg

Editor's note: This is an archive of a fact-check that has since been re-rated. Please see the newer re-rating here.

The Truth-O-Meter Says:

"There's a loophole where you can sell guns without a background check … 40 percent of guns are sold that way" at gun shows and over the Internet.

Michael Bloomberg on Sunday, July 22nd, 2012 in an interview on "Face the Nation"
Mayor Michael Bloomberg says 40 percent of guns are sold without a background check
Mostly True
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As the nation absorbed the news about the shooting deaths in a Colorado movie theater, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was scathing in his criticism of the National Rifle Association. On CBS’s Face the Nation, Bloomberg accused the NRA of being "adamant about no controls on weapons."

He said the pro-gun group leans on Congress and the White House and blocks funding for officials to enforce laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable.

"We don't need more laws. We need a couple of fixes," Bloomberg said. "There's a loophole where you can sell guns without a background check at a gun show, 40 percent of guns are sold that way, same thing on the Internet. … The NRA has opposed anything."

Here, we wanted to fact-check Bloomberg’s statement that "you can sell guns without a background check at a gun show, forty percent of guns are sold that way, same thing on the Internet." Bloomberg’s phrasing is a little awkward, but his staff told us he meant that 40 percent of guns are sold without a background check, either at gun shows or on the Internet.

His focus on background checks actually has little bearing on the deaths in Aurora, Colo. Accused shooter James Holmes obtained all his firearms through licensed dealers and passed muster with all of them. But 40 percent of gun sales taking place without a background check seemed pretty big, and we wanted to see if it’s accurate.

PolitiFact has looked at gun control laws before. Earlier this year, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.Y., said that people convicted of domestic violence could still legally buy a gun. We rated that True.

Current law

Buying a gun has required a background check since the Brady Act took effect in 1994. (James Brady was badly wounded during the assassination attempt on President Reagan; he was Reagan’s press secretary.) Under the law, federally licensed dealers must verify that a buyer has not been convicted of a serious crime or declared mentally incompetent or is blocked for any of about 10 reasons. Typically this is done online and takes less than a day.

But only licensed dealers must do this. The law doesn’t apply to private sellers at gun shows, flea markets, or people who post firearms for sale on the Internet. If a private seller suspects that a buyer would be disqualified under federal rules, then they can’t go through with the sale. But there is no background check, and no one needs to file any paperwork.

Bloomberg’s office pointed us to a 1997 study by the National Institute of Justice on who owns guns and how they use them.The researchers estimated that about 40 percent of all firearm sales took place through people other than licensed dealers. They based their conclusion on a random survey of more than 2,500 households.

In 1999, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released a report on gun shows. Investigators found that a quarter of the vendors were private sellers, not licensed dealers, and reported that "felons and other prohibited persons who want to avoid Brady Act checks and records of their purchase buy firearms at these shows." They said guns from such shows had been used in drug crimes.

Both of these reports are at least 10 years out of date. We called the ATF and asked if there was anything more recent. They had nothing new to add. We called the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, groups that oppose new efforts to track gun transactions. Neither organization responded.

Bloomberg himself has complained about the lack of new research. Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told PolitiFact that no one knows exactly how gun sales break down between the formal and the informal markets. He said there are no data on gun shows, blaming the NRA for opposing regulation of them. Without a paper trail for each transaction, there’s nothing to count.

Legislation briefs posted on one of the NRA’s websites confirm the group’s stand on this point. When New York lawmakers introduced a bill that would have required background checks at gun shows, an NRA columnist warned this would lead to "confiscation of some or all firearms" by creating a more complete list of all gun owners.

The City of New York commissioned an investigation of Internet gun sales. The report said on 10 websites, it found over 25,000 weapons for sale.The report said that over 60 percent of sellers allowed a purchase to move forward even when the alleged buyer said he didn’t believe he would pass a background check. Sellers who used Craigslist were most likely to violate the law, the report said.

Our ruling

Mayor Bloomberg said 40 percent of gun sales take place through gun shows or the Internet.

The best information on the informal gun market is based on a survey and is about 15 years old. Current regulations don’t allow direct tallies of sales of this sort. An undercover investigation found a great deal of internet activity, but it was sponsored by a mayor who seeks greater regulation. Groups opposed to greater regulation were asked to rebut the mayor’s assertion and did not respond.
About this statement:

Published: Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 at 11:46 a.m.

Subjects: Criminal Justice, Guns


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, CBS News, Face the Nation, July 22, 2012

PolitiFact, Frank Lautenberg say loophole allows individuals convicted of domestic violence to purchase guns, May 3, 2012

PolitiFact, Sen. Janet Howell says it’s easier to buy guns in Virginia than vote, February 27, 2012

Associated Press, James Holmes, Aurora Shooting Suspect, Used Internet for Arsenal, July 23, 2012

KMTV, James Holmes Passed All Background Checks, July 21, 2012

Seattle Times, Suspected shooter bought guns legally, July 20, 2012

U.S. Department of Justice, Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms, May, 1997

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Gun shows: Brady checks and crime gun traces, January 1999

Email interview, Josh Horwitz, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide, 2005

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,Firearms FAQ,

Federal Bureau of InvestigationI, General Information Fact Sheet,

City of New York, Point, Click, Fire: An Investigation of Online Gun Sales, December, 2011

Huffington Post, The truth about gun sales, January 9, 2012

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Gun show loophole,

National Review, The Media Botches Aurora, July 23, 2012, Full text S. 436, 2011

National Rifle Association, Bad Barrett - F rated,

NRA-ILA, NRA criticizes Delaware private sale legislation, June 2, 2011

NRA, Ever wonder what a loophole looks like?,

NR-ILA, Wisconsin: GOP leader blasts proposal to bar private sales, July 14, 2011

Written by: Jon Greenberg
Researched by: Jon Greenberg
Edited by: Angie Drobnic Holan