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By W. Gardner Selby November 6, 2015

Greg Abbott, embarrassed, says Californians buying more new guns this year than Texans

Greg Abbott is embarrassed? So the Texas governor said in this October 2015 tweet: "I'm EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let's pick up the pace Texans."

Can’t be right. Right?

It wasn’t.

Abbott’s tweet linked to a news blog post in which the Houston Chronicle reported that while the number of requests to buy firearms in Texas had topped 1 million for the year, the Lone Star State still trailed California in such requests, according to the FBI.

The post drew on FBI counts, all right, but the agency doesn’t track the number of firearms purchased in each state. When we asked spokesman Stephen Fischer about such detail, he emailed us a link to the agency web page tallying requests made by firearms dealers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check system known as NICS to determine whether a person should be disqualified from buying a gun based on a range of matters, such as prior criminal history to mental health.

A footnote to the chart says: "These statistics represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS. They do not represent the number of firearms sold. Based on varying state laws and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale."

That’s a big caveat.

Background checks in 2015

Still, let’s see how the requests for instant background checks have been stacking up.

From January through October 2015, the most background checks were submitted from Kentucky — 2.6 million such requests. California was next, with 1.3 million, and then Texas, with nearly 1.2 million checks.

Adjusting for population

We recognized another way to evaluate how each of the 10 states with the most requests for background checks stack up: Adjust for population. Drawing on U.S. census estimates of each state’s population as of July 2014, we found that Kentucky led nationally through the first 10 months of 2015 by generating nearly 0.6 requests for background checks per resident.

States lagging far behind included Alabama and Indiana (0.1 requests per resident); Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio (less than 0.1 requests per resident) and Texas and Florida (0.04 requests per resident).

We found California ranking last in this subgroup (0.03 requests per resident).

Guns purchased without background checks

A wrinkle: Any estimate of gun purchases by state is hindered by the unknown number of private purchases or gifts of guns not preceded by background checks. A 1997 study occasionally is invoked to suggest 40 percent of gun sales don’t involve background checks. That’s not a correct reading of the study, PolitiFact has noted. Also, one of the researchers has since said it’s not known how many purchases occur without background checks.

We asked Abbott’s office about his claim and didn’t hear back.

Our ruling

Abbott said: "Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA."

Hold fire: The FBI counsels against using requests for instant background checks to estimate gun purchases, which was Abbott’s basis for his statement. Besides that, Texas ranked third behind Kentucky and California in the number of checks requested for gun purchases through the first 10 months of 2015. Adjust for population and among the 10 states with the most requested background checks, Texas tied with Florida for 8th place with both states and seven others accounting for more per-capita requests for background checks than California.

We rate this claim False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Web page, "NICS Firearm Background Checks: Month/Year by State Year 2015 January 1, 2015 - October 31, 2015," FBI (accessed at this link Nov. 4, 2015)

Chart, "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014," U.S. Census Bureau, from a bureau web page, "State Totals: Vintage 2014," last updated Jan. 26, 2015 (downloaded Nov. 4, 2015)

Truth-O-Meter articles, "Out-of-date gun background check statistic gets new life after Oregon shooting," PolitiFact, Oct. 4, 2015; "McAuliffe says 40 percent of U.S. gun sales escape background checks," PolitiFact Virginia, Nov. 2, 2015

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by W. Gardner Selby

Greg Abbott, embarrassed, says Californians buying more new guns this year than Texans

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