Even as more gun buyers undergo background checks, millions still don’t

The percentage of people in the U.S. purchasing firearms without a background check appears to be significantly lower than the most recent estimate more than two decades ago, according to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Northeastern University. Millions are still able to buy guns without background checks, though, mostly through private and online gun sales.

In a national online survey of 1,613 gun owners, 22% who reported obtaining their most recent firearm within the past two years said they did so without a background check. The most recent previous estimate, based on a 1994 survey, suggested that as many as 40% of gun sales were done without a background check.

“We’ve been moving in the right direction,” said Deborah Azrael, co-author of the new Annals of Internal Medicine study and director of research at Harvard Chan School’s Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC), in a January 2, 2017 article in The Trace.

Azrael noted that it’s “crazy” that the most recent estimate of how many people buy guns without background checks is from 1994. “I mean, should we be citing 20-year-old statistics in support of contemporary policy?” she asked. “Probably not, but the problem is that there has been no effort to maintain any kind of ongoing check on what has been happening.”

The researchers also pointed out that many gun sales continue to be unregulated. “We still can’t lose sight of the fact that there are still millions of people every year who are getting guns, often from friends and acquaintances, without [background checks],” said co-author Matthew Miller, HICRC co-director and a professor of epidemiology at Northeastern.

Lisa Hepburn, research associate at HICRC, was also a co-author.

Read the Trace article: Fewer Americans Are Acquiring Guns Without a Background Check, Survey Finds

Read the study abstract: Firearm Acquisition Without Background Checks: Results of a National Survey

Learn more

Keeping guns out of the wrong hands (Harvard Chan School news)