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

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll April 29, 2016

Fact-checking Amy Schumer's 'Welcome to the Gun Show'

Searching for a great gift for all ages? Look no further, Amy Schumer has the product for you.

In a recent sketch on her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, Schumer and fellow comedian Kyle Dunnigan play infomercial hosts pitching viewers on the perfect "stocking stuffer": a handgun. A hopeful buyer laments that he can’t get a gun because he has a criminal record riddled with felonies.

"Caller, you bite your tongue, you silly goose!" Schumer’s character says. "You can absolutely get a gun if you have several felonies, as long as you buy it on the Internet or at a gun show."

"If you go to a gun show, you can get an unlicensed seller to sell you a gun, no questions asked," Dunnigan added

We’ve looked at similar claims before. Because this sketch is getting a lot of attention, we wanted to recap whether a felon can actually buy a gun on the Internet or at a gun show.

This isn’t the first time Schumer has tackled gun issues; she has been a vocal advocate for stricter gun laws since a gunman killed two and injured many others at a showing of her feature film Trainwreck in a Louisiana movie theater in 2015.

But it is her first time on the Truth-O-Meter.

The 'gun show loophole'

To be clear: The kind of transaction Schumer’s character describes is illegal. Federal law prohibits felons from getting a gun unless their rights have been formally restored.

Felons can theoretically get around this obstacle, however, by buying guns from unlicensed sellers who are not required to conduct criminal background checks. This is sometimes referred to as the "gun show loophole," even though it refers to all private sales, and not everyone considers it a loophole.

Schumer’s sketch was referring to this aspect of current gun law, said a spokesman for Everytown for Gun Safety, gun control advocacy group Schumer promotes at the end of the sketch.

Anyone who repeatedly buys and sells firearms "with the principal motive of making a profit" is supposed to get a dealer’s license, whether they deal out of a brick-and-mortar store, a gun show, or online, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Licensed firearm dealers must run background checks on non-licensed buyers before selling them a gun.

But the law does not require a dealer’s license for private hobbyists and others who occasionally buy and sell guns. If an individual buys a gun from someone who is not required to have a license, the purchaser does not have to undergo a background check.

Featured Fact-check

So a violent felon could buy a gun from a hobbyist over the Internet or at a gun show because he or she would not be subject to a background check. The purchase would still be illegal, because of the buyer’s felon status, but it would not create an immediate red flag. The same thing can happen at a gun show.

There are a few important limitations on these sorts of private transactions.

First, it is illegal for private sellers to transfer a gun to someone they either know or reasonably believe is prohibited from owning a gun, for example, if the seller knows the buyer is a felon. But private sellers "can give themselves plausible deniability by not asking the necessary questions," Garen Wintemute, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California Davis, previously told PolitiFact.

So in the case of Schumer’s show, she and her co-host would not have that cushion of plausible deniability because the hopeful buyer told them outright that he is a felon. The giant "gun show" banner doesn’t make a difference.

Second, private sales, online or otherwise, cannot take place across state lines, so the buyer and seller must be in the same state. And there are many restrictions on shipping guns, so the actual transaction is likely to take place in person, as opposed to the buyer entering credit card information online, and the seller shipping the gun to the buyer’s house.

And third, several states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington — and the District of Columbia require background checks for all private gun sales.

With all these restrictions, how many people actually buy guns without a background check? The truth is we don’t really know. The only statistics floating around are outdated and flawed.

Professors at Northeastern and Harvard universities conducted a gun survey in 2015 that isn’t yet published. The national survey of 4,000 non-institutionalized adults found that 22 percent of the people who purchased guns — at gun shows, stores or elsewhere — underwent no background check, Matthew Miller, professor of Health Sciences and Epidemiology at Northeastern and co-director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, told us in January.

When researchers excluded purchases between family and friends, that number dropped to 15 percent, which equates to approximately 5 million gun owners whose most recent purchase did not involve a background check.

One more thing: Later in Schumer’s sketch, another hopeful buyer calls in to ask if he can get a gun even though he’s a suspected terrorist on the no-fly list.

"You’re fine, sweet potato fry," Schumer’s character says.

A March 2015 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office examined how many people applying for gun purchases went through the FBI’s instant background check system and also were on the FBI’s list of "those known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity."

Between February 2004, and December 2014, 2,233 people on the list applied to buy a weapon. Of those, 2,043 were allowed to proceed.

Our ruling

Schumer’s character said, "You can absolutely get a gun if you have several felonies as long as you buy it on the Internet or at a gun show."

The kind of transaction Schumer described is possible, though illegal, and far more complicated than her comment suggests. Federal law prohibits felons from buying guns. But with some effort, they could purchase a gun from private sellers over the Internet or at a gun show without getting caught, because private sellers are not required to run background checks.

Schumer is doing a comedy bit, but compared with similar claims we’ve checked, her phrasing makes it sound like buying guns with a felony is easy and lawful. That is not the case. The context is significant. We rate her claim Half True.

Our Sources

Comedy Central, "Welcome to the Gun Show," April 28, 2016

PolitiFact, "Obama: Violent felons can buy guns online without background checks," Jan. 5, 2016

PolitiFact, "Terrorist watch list no obstacle to buying guns, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy says," Dec. 29, 2015

PolitiFact, "Out-of-date gun background check statistic gets new life after Oregon shooting," Oct. 4, 2015

PolitiFact, "PolitiFact Sheet: 3 things to know about the 'gun show loophole,'" Jan. 7, 2016

Email interview, Everytown for Gun Safety spokeswoman Stacey Radnor, April 29, 2016

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Lauren Carroll

Fact-checking Amy Schumer's 'Welcome to the Gun Show'

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