The Battle Over Obama’s Sketchy Background Check Statistics

President Obama on background checks

If President Obama wants to sell stricter gun control to the nation, he’s going to need to pick up some more relevant and accurate statistics to back his argument, according to several fact-checking outlets. As the POTUS heads to Colorado Wednesday to push such legislation, some are questioning the validity of his rhetoric and the accuracy of one particular statistic which is key to his argument.

The statistic being questioned is the oft-cited “40 percent of gun purchases occur without a background check.” President Obama has made the claim in several speeches, and now everyone from the NRA to the Washington Post are calling him out for it.

“Why wouldn’t we want to make it more difficult for a dangerous person to get his or her hand on a gun?” Obama asked in a speech last week. “Why wouldn’t we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check? Why wouldn’t we do that?”

That figure was pulled from a 1997 study performed by the National Institute of Justice. It’s actually an estimate on the sale of guns among people who are not licensed gun dealers. The estimate’s origins go even further back to a 1994 survey of 2,568 households. In that survey, only 251 people answered a question about where they purchased their guns.

Worse, PolitiFact tracked down the study’s co-author, Duke University professor Philip Cook. They asked him if he thought the 40 percent estimate is accurate. “The answer is I have no idea,” he told PolitiFact. “This survey was done almost 20 years ago.”

You can read a more complete and complex breakdown of the statistic’s flaws here.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the Post fact-checker.

“While slagging the president may be good for business, the effect of (the newspaper’s) false ruling is to undermine legitimate efforts to keep the public safe, and to obscure the real enemy of reliable data on gun violence,” said Mediaite‘s Tommy Christopher in a rebuttal.

“It is possible to conclude that as few as 26.4% of gun owners in that study ‘purchased’ their gun without a background check, 20.4% if you factor in the margin of error,” he said.

The Obama administration has not responded to questions regarding the use of the statistic.

What do you think? Do you agree with the Post fact-checker, or do you think that the statistic is accurate and fair game?