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Gun control advocates often cite the statistic that 90 percent of Americans support expanding background checks for gun purchases.
President Barack Obama just did it in his Jan. 1, 2016, weekly address.
But conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham says that statistic is not accurate.
"The 90 percent statistic of supporting background checks, that's been debunked," Ingraham said on Fox News Sunday on Jan. 3. "Lots of the myths about gun ownership are perpetrated by people who never much liked the Second Amendment in the first place and who have a vested interest in amassing more power in Washington, D.C."
PolitiFact has rated this 90 percent statistic True as recently as October. So we decided to try and figure out what Ingraham was talking about when she said this is a myth that has been debunked.
Go to the polls
Under current law, background checks are required in sales by federally licensed gun dealers, but the checks are not required for gun sales by private sellers.
National polls conducted in 2015 consistently show that around 90 percent of Americans support some sort of expanded background checks for gun purchases. Here are a few examples:
Quinnipiac University poll, conducted Dec. 16-20: "Would you support or oppose a law requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows or online?" Support: 89 percent. Oppose: 9 percent. Unsure/No answer: 1 percent.
CBS/New York Times poll, conducted Oct. 21-25: "Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers?" Favor: 92 percent. Oppose: 7 percent. Unsure/No answer: 1 percent.
Gallup poll, conducted Oct. 7-11: "Would you favor or oppose a law which would require universal background checks for all gun purchases in the U.S. using a centralized database across all 50 states?" Favor: 86 percent. Oppose: 12 percent. Unsure: 2 percent.
Quinnipiac University poll, conducted Sept. 17-21: "Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?" Support: 93 percent. Oppose: 6 percent. Unsure/No answer: 1 percent.
Pew Research Center poll, conducted July 14-20: Do you favor or oppose "making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks"? Favor: 85 percent. Oppose: 13 percent. Unsure/Refused: 2 percent.
Pew found that support for background checks spans all partisan and demographic groups, and it is also favored by a majority of households that own guns and those that do not.
So are all of these polls wrong? We reached out to Ingraham’s producers and didn’t hear back.
We couldn’t find any sort of definitive debunking of this stat, but we did find that some gun rights advocates have taken issue with this statistic for reasons such as the survey questions referring to the general idea of background checks rather than specific legislation.
For example, in 2013, polls found that 90 percent of Americans supported expanded background checks. However, when Congress failed to pass a popular bill that would have increased background checks, 47 percent were disappointed or angry that it failed, while some 39 percent were relieved or very happy, according to a Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll.
Some gun rights activists took this as proof that the 90 percent figure was phooey.
This highlights an odd discrepancy: While people overwhelmingly support specific gun policy ideas, like universal background checks and banning suspected terrorists from buying guns, the support is not as robust when it comes to actually expanding gun control.
The same October CBS/New York Times poll that found 92 percent support for expanded background checks also shows 46 percent of Americans think laws covering gun sales should be either made less strict or stay the same. Just 51 percent said the laws should be made more strict.
"People don't seem to like the idea of ‘gun control,’ but they still want the government to do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill," said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California Los Angeles and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.
Ingraham said, "The 90 percent statistic of supporting background checks, that's been debunked."
Numerous respected polls from 2015 show around 90 percent support for some sort of expanded background checks for gun purchases.
While there are some questions as to what inferences can be made from these findings — such as whether that 90-percent support translates into support for specific legislation — there hasn’t been a definitive debunking of the statistic.
We rate Ingraham’s claim False.
Fox News, Fox News Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016
PollingReport.com, Guns, accessed Jan. 3, 2016
Washington Post, "Why the American public isn’t mad as hell about the failure of the gun bill (in numbers)," April 24, 2013
Pew Research Center, "Continued Bipartisan Support for Expanded Background Checks on Gun Sales," Aug. 13, 2015
PolitiFact Texas, "Jeremy Bird says 90 percent of Americans want mandatory background checks for all gun purchases," Oct. 5, 2015
The Trace, "The Paradoxes of ‘Gun Control’ Polling," Sept. 16, 2015
Email interview, UCLA Law professor Adam Winkler, Jan. 4, 2016
Email interview, Duke public policy professor Kristin Goss, Jan. 4, 2016
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