Background Checks Make a Difference

A project of The Center for Gun Responsibility

Get the Facts

1. What are background checks?

Background checks are the only systematic way to help stop felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous people from buying guns. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has blocked over 2 million gun sales to people who are prohibited from possessing guns. However, in Washington the current system has a gaping loophole that criminals exploit. Prohibited purchasers can avoid background checks by buying firearms from unlicensed “private sellers” — often at gun shows or through anonymous online transactions — who are not required by federal law to conduct them, or ask any questions at all.

 

2. Will background checks really prevent dangerous people from obtaining guns?

Yes. They’re one of many ways we can prevent gun violence. The background check system has blocked more than 2 million gun sales to people prohibited from buying them. But some criminals attempt to avoid background checks. Under current law, they can simply find a private seller online, at a gun show, or in a classified ad, and purchase a gun with no questions asked. Undercover investigations have shown that 63 percent of private sellers at gun shows and 62 percent of private online sellers are willing to sell a gun to someone who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check. Many prohibited purchasers are evading background checks by acquiring guns through “private” channels.

 

3. Don’t criminals buy weapons on the black market?

Obtaining guns on the black market is expensive and risky: criminals report paying $250 to $400 on the black market for guns valued at only $50 to $100 in the legal market, the quality of firearms is uncertain, and conducting the transaction poses substantial risk of harm or arrest. A study of black market gun dealers found that more than one in three attempts to purchase a gun on the black market ended in failure. Background checks on all private gun sales will give law enforcement another tool to crack down on the gun traffickers and criminals who sell guns on the black market and flood our streets with illegal guns.

 

4. Is there any evidence that background checks make a difference in reducing crime?

There is abundant evidence that background checks reduce crime and save lives. Sixteen states and Washington, DC, go beyond federal law and require a background check for private handgun sales (CA, CT, IA, HI, IL, MD, MA, MI, NE, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, and as of 2013, CO and DE). Compared to the rest of the country:

  • 39% fewer police officers are murdered with handguns.
  • 38% fewer women are murdered with handguns by intimate partners.

5. Have any other states required a background check for all private sales?

Yes. Eighteen states and Washington, DC, go beyond federal law and require a background check for private handgun sales (CA, CT, IA, HI, IL, MD, MA, MI, NE, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, CO, DE, and as of 2014, Washington State and Oregon).

 

6. Background checks won’t stop every gun crime, or even some of the most high-profile ones. Why should we bother?

There is no single solution for reducing gun violence. But there are reasonable steps we can take that will save lives and reduce crime while protecting 2nd Amendment Rights. And there is already proof that background checks keep guns out of dangerous hands: since its creation in 1998, the background check system has blocked more than 2 million gun sales to people prohibited from buying them. Countless crimes have been prevented in our communities because those 2 million guns were not sold to dangerous people.