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Americans have often been polled on whether background checks should be done for gun sales made at gun shows. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) Americans have often been polled on whether background checks should be done for gun sales made at gun shows. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Americans have often been polled on whether background checks should be done for gun sales made at gun shows. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 3, 2017

Do 90% of Americans support background checks for all gun sales?

In the first hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, many leading elected officials in Wisconsin issued statements about prayer and condolences, but Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele went further.

Abele, a Democrat who holds a nonpartisan office, said in a tweet on Oct. 2, 2017:

Americans have overwhelmingly supported common sense gun reform. 90% support universal background checks. Elected officials must act.

In 2015, we rated as True a claim that polling showed nearly 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support requiring background checks for all gun sales. The statement was made by Wisconsin state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

So, what about Abele’s claim about all Americans?

The latest polls and our checks with four polling experts indicate support is at 90 percent, give or take a few percentage points.

Recent polls

Here’s a look at national polls done in 2016 or 2017 on this question.

Poll

Date

Question

Percent support/favor

Quinnipiac University

June 2017

Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?

94%

Washington University American Panel Survey

July 2016

Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers, no matter where the gun is purchased?

84%

CBS News

June 2016

Featured Fact-check

Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers?

89%

Morning Consult

June 2016

Do you support requiring all sellers to run background checks on anyone who buys a gun?

86%*

Public Policy Polling

Mar. 2016

Do you support or oppose requiring a criminal background check of every person who wants to buy a firearm?

84%

CBS News/New York Times

Jan.2016

Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers?

88%

*This was a poll of registered voters, rather than simply adults

 

So, the latest poll shows support above 90 percent, while three other recent polls show support between 84 percent and 89 percent.

Polling expert Steven Smith, a professor of social sciences and political science at Washington University in St. Louis, told us that the wording of questions in national surveys can vary and usually do not use the term "universal." But well over 80 percent, and sometimes over 90 percent, of respondents favor background checks for all gun sales, he said.

Polling experts Kathy Frankovic, a former consultant for CBS News, Karlyn Bowman at the American Enterprise Institute think tank and Charles Franklin at Marquette University Law School agreed that such results have been consistent.

It’s worth noting that some other recent polls didn’t ask specifically about a background check for every gun sale, but they asked similar questions and got similar results:

Pew Research Center (March 2017): "Please indicate whether you would strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks." Favor or strongly favor: 84 percent.

CNN/ORC (June 2016): "Would you generally favor or oppose a background check on anyone attempting to purchase a gun in order to determine whether the prospective buyer has been convicted of a felony?" Favor: 92 percent.

We’ll also note that in July 2016, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said: "Ninety percent of Americans want our background check system strengthened and expanded to cover more gun sales." PolitiFact National’s rating was True.

Our rating

Abele says 90 percent of Americans "support universal background checks" for gun purchases.

"Universal" is the term for background checks to be done on every gun sale. We found support for that policy at 94 percent in the latest national poll. Support ranged between 84 percent and 89 percent in the four other most recent polls. Experts say support at or near 90 percent has been consistent for years.

For a statement that is accurate and has nothing significant missing, our rating is True.

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PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
True
90 percent of Americans "support universal background checks" for gun purchases.
In a tweet
Monday, October 2, 2017

Our Sources

Twitter, Chris Abele tweet, Oct. 2, 2017

Texts, Chris Abele spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff, Oct. 2, 2017

PolitiFact National, "At DNC, Sen. Chris Murphy says 90% of Americans want expanded background checks for gun purchases," July 27, 2016

Quinnipiac University Poll, poll results, June 28, 2017

PollingReport.com, "Guns," accessed Oct. 2, 2017

Email, professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette Law School Poll Charles Franklin, Oct. 2, 2017

Email, American Enterprise Institute polling expert and senior fellow Karlyn Bowman, Oct. 2, 2017

CNN/ORC International, poll results, June 20, 2016

New York Times, "How to Prevent Gun Deaths? Where Experts and the Public Agree," Jan. 10, 2017

CBS News Poll, poll results, June 15, 2016

CBS News/New York Times Poll, poll results, Jan. 12, 2016

Public Policy Polling, poll results, March 31, 2016

Morning Consult, poll results, June 17-20, 2016

Gallup, "Guns," accessed Oct. 2, 2017

Pew Research Center, complete report of poll results, June 22, 2017

Email, polling expert Steven Smith, professor of social sciences and political science at Washington University, Oct. 2, 2017

PunditFact, "Laura Ingraham wrongly says claim that 90% support for gun background checks has been debunked," Jan. 5, 2016

Email, polling expert Kathy Frankovic, Oct. 3, 2017

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