One Pagers

A Background Check For Every Gun Sale

February 22, 2013 1:58 pm ET

Americans are joining together to call for gun violence prevention laws -- like bipartisan legislation to close the private sale loophole, which allows criminals to evade the background check system if they get the gun from a private seller. Here's how to explain why there's no good reason to oppose the idea -- and isolate the politicians in Congress who oppose it anyway.

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The only people who don't want background checks are criminals…and NRA lobbyists.

Connect: Criminals should not be able to get guns. That's just common sense.

Define: The only people who don't want a background check for every gun sale are criminals -- and politicians backed by the Washington gun lobby.

Explain: Criminal background checks are a fast and proven way to save lives. It would work even better if we close the private sale loophole that lets 4 out of 10 gun transfers happen without any checks.

Validate: A stronger background check system protects law-abiding gun owners from being blamed for others' gun crimes. No wonder most gun owners are siding with law enforcement officials and the 90% of Americans who support it.

Contrast:  NRA lobbyists and their extremist allies are lying about background checks to fundraise off worried gun owners, but the truth is that by law there isn't a national registry and no one is proposing to create one.

Values: Weigh the priceless value of a child's life against the two-minute wait of a criminal background check, and it's incredible that anyone would oppose it.


ATTACK: "Universal background checks will lead to a national gun registry."

  • Federal law prohibits the creation of a national gun registry. No one is proposing to change that.
  • Here's the reality. The only official record of each gun sale is a basic sales receipt, or what's called a Form 4473, that stays with the seller. Gun dealers have already been keeping these receipts for 40 years.
  • Law enforcement officials would get to access the records only in very limited situations, such as for criminal investigations. The completed background checks of law-abiding buyers are also destroyed by the FBI within 24 hours. That's hardly the basis for a national registry.
  • So NRA lobbyists and their fringe extremist allies who lie about it anyway are just trying to fundraise off concerned gun owners and boost gun sales for the gun manufacturers.


ATTACK: "Universal background checks would violate our privacy rights."

  • The millions of law-abiding citizens who undergo the instant background checks every year aren't complaining about privacy issues. Millions more who fly on a plane give their names, show ID, and go through security. Why should it be different for gun sales? What's the reason to shield the people who are trying to evade criminal background checks to get guns?
  • The background check system exists to protect law-abiding gun owners from getting blamed for crimes committed with guns no longer in their possession. That's possible only because each gun sale generates a sales receipt -- which the gun dealer keeps, not the federal government.
  • Licensed gun dealers have already been conducting background checks and keeping sales receipts for decades. Closing the private sale loophole just brings everyone else into the same instant check system, which already has privacy protections and bans creating a national registry.
  • So it's no wonder that 75% of rank-and-file NRA members are siding with law enforcement and the 90% of the American people who support requiring a background check no matter where people buy the gun and no matter who they buy it from.


ATTACK: "Background checks don't work."

  • Criminal background checks are a fast, effective, and proven way to save lives and prevent gun sales to people who shouldn't have them, including criminals.
  • The truth is that states with strong gun violence prevention laws, including universal background checks, have lower gun death rates -- including murders associated with domestic violence and suicide. Background check laws also lower the gun trafficking rate by half.
  • A background check is quick -- taking only about 90 seconds -- but powerful. They've stopped more than 2 million gun sales to dangerous people like convicted felons.
  • It would work even better if we close the private sale loophole that lets about 40% of gun transfers happen without any checks because the seller isn't a licensed gun dealer. A gun is a gun no matter who's selling it.


ATTACK: "Checks should not be strengthened because criminals will never submit to them."

  • That's like saying we should get rid of laws against drunk driving because people will never stop drinking and driving.
  • Even if one more dangerous person is stopped from getting a gun, it will matter to the family and to the community that would've been torn apart by the gun violence.
  • Criminals will try to avoid background checks, but that's why we need a law to make it harder for them to evade the system. Even if they fail a check, they can now simply find a private seller online, at a gun show, or in a newspaper classified and buy a gun with no questions asked.
  • Instant background checks have stopped more than 2 million gun sales to dangerous people like convicted felons. So the check system works -- and we can make it work even better by closing the private sale loophole.


ATTACK: "These background check proposals ban private citizens from selling their guns or even giving them to family members."

  • Just like now, gun owners will be able to give their guns to family members. The legislative proposals on the table have exemptions to allow just that.
  • If gun owners want to temporarily lend out their guns for hunting or target shooting -- or in cases of imminent danger -- the proposals on the table have exemptions to allow that, too.
  • Just like now, private citizens will still be able to sell their guns -- just not to criminals and other dangerous people who fail their background check. These people should not be allowed to get guns, period.




  • Here's the private sale loophole: In more than 40 states, criminals and other people banned by law from buying guns can evade background checks by buying guns from unlicensed "private sellers" -- often at gun shows or through anonymous online transactions -- who are not required by federal law to conduct them. 
  • Closing the private sale loophole means requiring a background check for every gun sale and bringing private sellers into this system -- making the background check system work even better.
  • Poll after poll shows that 90% of the American people support closing the loophole and requiring universal background checks -- including about 75% of rank-and-file NRA members.
  • Nearly 90% of the rank-and-file NRA members agree that support for Second Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns away from criminals and other dangerous people.


  • An estimated 6.6 million guns are sold each year without a federal background check -- about 30-40% of gun transfers, according to the most recent data.
  • That 40% figure doubles when it comes to criminal use of firearms. A survey of prisoners who committed crimes with handguns found that 80% of them got those guns through private transfers. According to another national survey of inmates, only 12% of those who used a gun in a crime got it from a retail store or pawn shop, where a background check should have been run.
  • The Columbine killers got around the system by using guns bought at a gun show from an unlicensed seller: no paperwork, no questions asked.

We develop messaging by aggregating, analyzing and distilling polling, tested messaging, and expert recommendations, and monitoring the media to identify what is and isn't working.
See here for some of the experts and organizations we draw on.


Posted in - Guns - Crime

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