New study finds 1 in 5 US gun owners obtained firearm without background check

One in five U.S. gun owners who obtained a firearm in the past two years did so without a back­ground check, according to a new national survey con­ducted by researchers at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity and Har­vard University.

The study also found the share of gun owners who acquired firearms via pri­vate sale without back­ground checks was sig­nif­i­cantly larger (57 per­cent) in states without laws reg­u­lating such pur­chases than in states with leg­isla­tive reg­u­la­tions (26 percent).

The find­ings were pub­lished Tuesday in the journal Annals of Internal Med­i­cine.

This is the first direct national esti­mate of the pro­por­tion of gun owners who obtained firearms without a back­ground check,” said Matthew Miller, the study’s lead author and pro­fessor of health sci­ences and epi­demi­ology in Northeastern’s Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences.

The pro­por­tion of gun owners who had obtained firearms without back­ground checks had pre­vi­ously been esti­mated using data from a 1994 study that asked whether respon­dents had obtained their most recent firearm from a fed­er­ally licensed dealer. The 1994 survey was widely quoted as esti­mating  that 40 per­cent of gun trans­fers were con­ducted without back­ground checks. How­ever, Miller said that the 1994 study focused pri­marily whether respon­dents iden­ti­fied the source of their firearms as a fed­eral firearms license and on where gun owners had obtained their firearms, but didn’t ask directly if the firearms were obtained without  back­ground checks per se. The new Northeastern-​​Harvard survey asked directly—and found that 22 per­cent of cur­rent U.S. gun owners who acquired a gun within the past two years did so without back­ground checks.

This is the first direct national esti­mate of the pro­por­tion of gun owners who obtained firearms without a back­ground check.
—North­eastern pro­fessor Matthew Miller

While Miller noted that it is not clear how much of the apparent decline from 40 per­cent to 22 per­cent can be attrib­uted to dif­fer­ences in the survey ques­tions in 1994 and 2015, he under­scored that it looks like we are closer today than we were 20 years ago to uni­versal back­ground checks. But Miller also cau­tioned that even today, mil­lions of Amer­ican adults con­tinue to acquire guns annu­ally without back­ground checks. He added that while research shows the over­whelming majority of Amer­i­cans favor uni­versal back­ground checks, more than 30 states don’t require back­ground checks on pri­vate firearm sales.

Our research makes the case for the adop­tion of laws in states that do not cur­rently reg­u­late pri­vate firearm trans­fers,” Miller said, “and it under­scores the fact that we’re talking about mil­lions of gun trans­fers annu­ally that pass from one pri­vate owner to another without a formal vet­ting process and so without knowing whether the recip­ient is someone society deems a lawful pos­sessor of firearms.”

Other survey find­ings:
•    Half of the firearms pur­chased pri­vately within the past two years were obtained without a back­ground check.
•    77 per­cent of gun owners who pur­chased their most recent gun from a friend or acquain­tance did so without a back­ground check.
•    45 per­cent of gun owners who pur­chased their most recent gun online did so without a back­ground check.

The nation­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive survey, which was con­ducted in April 2015, included 1,613 gun owners.

The new survey comes on the heels of another study by Miller and his col­leagues last year that found the esti­mated number of privately-​​owned guns in America grew by more than 70 million—to approx­i­mately 265 million—between 1994 and 2015. Half of that gun stock, the study found, is owned by only 3 per­cent of the population.

4 thoughts on “New study finds 1 in 5 US gun owners obtained firearm without background check

  1. Previous comment wasn’t posted. Online sales avoid background checks only if face to face between citizens of the same state. All other sales, including private sales, must go through a licensed dealer with background checks. It’s the law. I know as I have sold and purchased guns online.

    The other statistics of about guns all trace back to Harvard, which receives many millions from Gun Ban Lobby leader Bloomberg. Stop with the politics masquerading as research. The corruption stains this blog and the science stories reported here.

  2. The statistic about online purchases implies false information. Online sales avoid background checks only if face to face between citizens of the same state. All other sales, including private sales, must go through a licensed dealer with background checks. It’s the law. I know as I have sold and purchased guns online.

    The other statistics of about guns all trace back to Harvard, which receives many millions from Gun Ban Lobby leader Bloomberg. Stop with the politics masquerading as research. The corruption stains this blog and the science stories reported here.

  3. Bloomberg, a leader in Gun Ban Lobby, gave Harvard $32 million in August 2016. How can we trust any anti-gun research from Harvard?

  4. This highly biased study, by an anti-gun nut, ignores the fact that 100% of the guns acquired by criminals are not vetted by a government DO-GOODER!

    Government legislation, either National or State, or Municipal, serve mainly to harass law-abiding citizens.

    Take Chicago for instance, worthless self-serving “leaders”, and overwhelming numbers of Godless gangsters running loose; no effective prosecution!

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