An adviser to a group focused on turning Texas Democratic-blue suggested after the fatal shootings in Oregon that there’s a huge consensus nationally in favor of mandating a background check before any gun purchase.
Jeremy Bird, a Chicago-based senior adviser to Battleground Texas, said in an Oct. 2, 2015, tweet: "90% of Americans want national background checks that close loopholes. 9-0. Won't solve whole problem but is a start."
He posted that comment the day after a man opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., killing nine. According to news accounts, authorities subsequently collected 14 guns owned by the man, who killed himself at the scene.
Hours before Bird tweeted, ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Celinez Nunez said at a news conference that all of the weapons were purchased legally, seven of them by the shooter or his family members in the last three years.
And was Bird right about sweeping support for universal background checks?
A previous ‘True’
Bird’s claim rang a bell. In April 2013, we found True a claim by Lee Leffingwell, then Austin’s mayor, that 90 percent of Americans and 74 percent of National Rifle Association members supported background checks of gun purchasers. Polls taken in 2012 and 2013 supported both figures, though one taken closest to Leffingwell’s comment indicated support among all Americans possibly slipping a bit below 90 percent.
Currently, background checks are required in sales by federally licensed gun dealers but not for gun sales by private sellers. But President Barack Obama and others have called for requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales. In 2013, the National Rifle Association suggested that an expansion would fail to rope in criminals.
A January 2013 Pew Research Center 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.
Several 2015 polls
By email to our inquiry about Bird’s statement, Pew spokesman Brian Mahl pointed out a center survey of 2,002 adults taken from July 14-20, 2015, that found (again) 85 percent of respondents in favor of making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.
Pew said in its August 2015 results summary: "While there is broad support for several specific gun policy proposals – and opinion on these measures has not changed significantly since 2013 – the public continues to be more evenly divided in fundamental attitudes about whether it is more important to control gun ownership or to protect the right of Americans to own guns. Currently, 50% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 47% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns."
Our own web search turned up a survey of 1,326 adults, intended to be a representative national sample, taken Jan. 2-16, 2015 by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Some 84 percent of respondents favored requiring background checks for all gun sales, compared to 89 percent in a similar survey taken two years before, a "slight erosion," the authors wrote.
We noted before a January 2013 CBS/New York Times poll indicating 92 percent of all the respondents at that time favoring background checks for all potential gun buyers. The poll had an overall margin of error of three percentage points. A more recent CBS News poll, taken of 1,047 registered voters July 29-Aug. 2, 2015, showed 88 percent of respondents favoring background checks for all gun purchases including, CBS News said, "large majorities of Republicans (81 percent), Democrats (93 percent), and independents (89 percent)."
Quinnipiac University polls
National voter surveys by Quinnipiac University continue to show widespread support for universal background checks.
We noted in our Leffingwell check that a national Quinnipiac University survey of 772 registered voters, taken Jan. 30 through Feb. 4, 2013, found 92 percent supporting background checks for all gun buyers. That survey 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.
By email, Battleground Texas replied to our inquiry by pointing out a news story in The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, stating that a June 2014 Quinnipiac University poll found 92 percent of surveyed voters in favor of universal background checks for gun purchases. The survey reached 1,446 registered voters from June 24-30, 2014 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
More recently, a Quinnipiac University survey of 1,574 registered voters, taken Sept. 17-21, 2015, found 93 percent of respondents in favor of requiring background checks for all gun buyers. Similarly, 93 percent of respondents with a legally acquired gun in the household indicated support for such checks. The poll had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
Quinnipiac University Survey (Sept. 17-21, 2015)
SOURCE: Press release, "Don't Shut Down Government, U.S. Voters Say 3-1, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Voters Oppose Admitting Syrian Refugees," Quinnipiac University Poll, Sept. 28, 2015
Texas poll shows less support there
And in Texas? A February 2013 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of 1,200 Texas voters found 78 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly supporting criminal and mental health background checks for all U.S. gun purchases, including at gun shows and for private sales. Those results had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. A June 2013 follow-up survey found 74 percent of the 1,200 respondents somewhat or strongly supporting such background checks.
Bird said: "90% of Americans want national background checks that close loopholes."
Polls continue to show a strong tilt in favor of background checks prior to all gun purchases; the latest available poll before Bird spoke found 93 percent of adults in favor. Then again, the popularity of this idea may bear watching. Other 2015 polls found as few as 84 percent of respondents backing the universal checks.
We rate the claim True.
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
News story, "The Latest: Victim Told Grandmother Christians Targeted," The Associated Press, Oct. 2, 2015 (fetched from ABC News website)
Truth-O-Meter articles, "Rep. Jackie Speier says poll shows NRA members believe all gun buyers face background checks," PolitiFact, Jan. 23, 2013; "Lee Leffingwell Says 90 percent of Americans and 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support background checks of gun purchasers,",PolitiFact Texas, April 4, 2013
White House, "Now is the Time," Jan. 16, 2013
Poll results, "Two years after Newtown—public opinion on gun policy revisited," Colleen Barry, PhD, lead author, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, posted online May 19, 2015 (accessed Oct. 5, 2015)
CBS News polls, "9 in 10 back universal gun background checks," Jan. 17, 2013; "CBS News poll: More Americans disapprove than approve of the Iran deal," CBS News, Aug. 4, 2015
Web posts, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "In Gun Control Debate, Several Options Draw Majority Support," Jan. 14, 2013; "Continued Bipartisan Support for Expanded Background Checks on Gun Sales," Aug. 13, 2015
Press releases, "Iraq - Getting In Was Wrong; Getting Out Was Right, U.S. Voters Tell Quinnipiac University National Poll; 92 Percent Back Background Checks For All Gun Buys," Quinnipiac University Poll, July 3, 2014; "Don't Shut Down Government, U.S. Voters Say 3-1, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Voters Oppose Admitting Syrian Refugees," Quinnipiac University Poll, Sept. 28, 2015
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