Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

By W. Gardner Selby April 4, 2013

Lee Leffingwell says polls show 90 percent of Americans and 74 percent of NRA members support criminal background checks before all gun buys

Joining calls for criminal background checks prior to every U.S. gun purchase, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the idea is widely popular.

Ninety percent of Americans and 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support universal background checks, Leffingwell said, the Austin American-Statesman reported in a news article posted online the day he spoke, March 28, 2013.

Currently, background checks are required in sales by federally licensed gun dealers but not for gun sales by private sellers. President Barack Obama wants to require criminal background checks for all gun sales. The National Rifle Association, which opposes universal background checks, has suggested that an expansion would fail to rope in criminals.

As noted in a January 2013 fact check by our colleagues in Washington, Republican pollster Frank Luntz’s organization, Luntz Global, conducted a May 2012 poll of 945 gun owners nationwide, half of whom were gun owners who were "current or lapsed" members of the National Rifle Association and half of whom were non-NRA gun owners. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Leffingwell aide Amy Everhart said by email that the mayor based his NRA reference on the same poll, as cited by the group that commissioned it,  Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Everhart said Leffingwell also drew his conclusion about other polls from the group, which consists of city mayors concerned with illegal guns and gun violence as helmed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat. Its five Texas members include Leffingwell as well as the mayor of neighboring West Lake Hills, Dave Claunch, and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

A week before Leffingwell spoke, Everhart pointed out, Bloomberg delivered remarks in New York noting that polls in 41 congressional districts suggest an average of 86 percent to 89 percent of likely voters support universal background checks. "That’s in line with other recent polls that have found that more than 90 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers," Bloomberg said before revisiting the May 2012 poll that reached current and former NRA members.

That poll found that 82 percent of gun owners were in favor of required background checks, including 74 percent of individuals with current or former memberships in the NRA.


Contacted previously by PolitiFact, the NRA offered no comment on the poll. But the group previously reacted to a 2009 poll taken by Luntz for the mayors’ group by noting that Luntz could not have had access to the association’s confidential membership roll. It also criticized Luntz, a widely quoted communications consultant for Republican politicians and Fortune 100 companies, with decade-old criticism from two polling organizations. The association did not directly challenge the poll results.

PolitiFact identified two other 2013 polls of gun owners. A Pew Research Center poll taken of 1,502 adults from Jan. 9-13, 2013, found 85 percent of some 529 polled gun owners in favor of making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks — nearly identical to the Luntz poll. The gun-owner results had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. A CBS/New York Times poll conducted of 1,110 adults from Jan. 11-15, 2013, showed that 85 percent of respondents living in a household with an NRA member supported universal background checks.

More recently, according to the results of a national January 2013 poll presented in the March 21, 2013, New England Journal of Medicine, 84 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members supported requiring a universal background-check system for all gun sales. The poll was conducted by GfK Knowledge Networks for researchers led by Colleen L. Barry, an associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

And what of Americans in general?

The January Pew poll found 85 percent of all respondents in favor of making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, with comparable support from Republicans, Democrats and independents, Pew said. The margin of error for the entire sample was 2.9 percentage points.

The CBS/New York Times poll indicated that 92 percent of all the respondents favor background checks for all potential gun buyers. The poll had an overall margin of error of three percentage points.

PolitiFact Georgia, looking into a similar claim about support for universal checks, noted a Fox News poll conducted Jan. 15-17, 2013, of 1,008 registered voters. Ninety one percent of respondents said they favor "requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers, including those buying at gun shows and private sales."

A Quinnipiac University national survey of 772 registered voters, taken Jan. 30 through Feb. 4, 2013, found 92 percent supporting background checks for all gun buyers. The survey, pointed out by Everhart, had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

A subsequent Quinnipiac University survey, taken of 1,944 registered voters from Feb. 27, 2013 through March 4, 2013, found 88 percent in favor of background checks for all gun buyers. The poll had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

Our ruling

Austin’s mayor said 90 percent of Americans and 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support universal background checks for gun purchases.

Polls taken in 2012 and 2013 support both figures, though one taken closest to Leffingwell’s press conference indicates support among all Americans possibly slipping a bit below 90 percent. Also, the 2012 poll he cited for NRA members rolled together responses of current and former/lapsed members. Then again, a 2013 poll similarly suggests that 74 percent of NRA members favor universal background checks.

We rate this claim as True.

Our Sources

Truth-O-Meter article, "Rep. Jackie Speier says poll shows NRA members believe all gun buyers face background checks," PolitiFact, Jan. 23, 2013

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Gun Owners Poll by Luntz Global, July 2012


Mayors Against Illegal Guns, "New Poll of NRA Members By Frank Luntz Shows Strong Support For Common-Sense Gun Laws, Exposing Significant Divide Between Rank-And-File Members And NRA Leadership," July 24, 2013

Emails (excerpted), Amy Everhart, policy director, Office of Mayor Lee Leffingwell, City of Austin, April 1-2, 2013

Center for American Progress, "RELEASE: Poll Shows NRA Members at Odds with NRA Leadership on Commonsense Gun Laws," July 24, 2012

Research article, "After Newtown — Public Opinion on Gun Policy and Mental Illness," the New England Journal of Medicine, March 21, 2013

White House, "Now is the Time," Jan. 16, 2013


CBS News Polls, "9 in 10 back universal gun background checks," Jan. 17, 2013


Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "In Gun Control Debate, Several Options Draw Majority Support," Jan. 14, 2013


National Rifle Association, "Update On Bogus 'Poll' Of NRA Members," Feb. 9, 2010

Fox News poll, Jan. 18, 2013

Press releases, "Americans Back Women in Combat 3-1, But Less for Draft, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Support for Universal Gun Background Checks is 92 %," Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, Feb. 7, 2013; "Clinton, Christie Lead The Pack In Early Look At 2016, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; 88% Support For Universal Gun Background Checks," March 7, 2013 (accessed March 29, 2013)

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by W. Gardner Selby

Lee Leffingwell says polls show 90 percent of Americans and 74 percent of NRA members support criminal background checks before all gun buys

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up