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Fox News Sunday used the one-year anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., to renew the gun debate.
Carlee Soto, the sister of Newtown victim and Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Victoria Soto, and Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, both advocated for a failed Senate bill that would expand background checks on gun purchases.
Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, countered by calling for more guns in schools. He also dismissed the Senate legislation.
"The background check is futile," Pratt said. "Something like 42 (people during the) last year … were prosecuted for trying to buy a gun with a criminal record out of 11 million."
This talking point came up quite a bit in the months after the Sandy Hook shooting. The numbers aren’t far off, but they also doesn’t get at the heart of what a background check accomplishes.
If 42 people out of 11 million were the only ones deterred from legally buying a gun because of a background check, then maybe "futile" would be an accurate description. After all, that’s only 1 in every 262,000 applications.
But before we get into the other elements of a background check, let’s get the numbers right.
Since the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 went into effect, federally licensed firearms dealers and state and federal authorities have used the FBI background check system to determine whether an individual can legally purchase a firearm.
Pratt’s claim that 11 million background checks were conducted during the last year of record is a high estimate, but not by much. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, it’s actually around 10.4 million in 2010, the latest year on file.
He’s also not far off on the number of prosecutions. A report by the Regional Justice Information Service "Enforcement of the Brady Act, 2010," showed 62 charges were filed by U.S. attorneys across the country in response to background checks. Of those charges, 18 were dropped, putting the tally at 44, a couple more than Pratt’s number.
However, that doesn’t include local charges in states that conduct their own checks. As PolitiFact noted earlier this year while conducting a similar fact-check on comments from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., that’s likely to increase the total number of prosecutions.
In his research, Ronald Frandsen, grants administrator for the Regional Justice Information Service, found that in the four states that voluntarily report local cases — Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia — 1,520 arrests were noted. Another 17 states that conduct background checks themselves were not included.
"You’d have to say (the total number of arrests) would be higher," Frandsen told PolitiFact at the time. "There’s no question."
Pratt is also ignoring all the individuals who were denied weapons up front because they could not pass a background check.
In 2010, 153,000 applications to purchase a firearm or obtain a permit were blocked. The most common reason an application is denied is because the customer has a previous felony conviction or indictment, making up almost half of all denials for federal checks and one-third of state checks.
It’s still a small percentage of all the applications processed, about 1.5 percent, but it’s much more than Pratt lets one believe.
Pratt said "the background check is futile. Something like 42 (people during the) last year of record were prosecuted for trying to buy a gun with a criminal record out of 11 million."
He is a little off in his numbers, but they’re close. However, his statement also paints just a partial picture of the entire background check procedure and how authorities and gun sellers use it to keep criminals from purchasing weapons. To make a bold claim like the system is "futile" and then leave out the thousands of individuals denied a firearm because of a background check is misleading.
We rate it Half True.
Larry Pratt, comments on Fox News Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013
PolitiFact, "Goodlatte says U.S. prosecutions for lying on gun background checks are down 40 percent under Obama," May 1, 2013
PolitiFact, "GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions says gun prosecutions have declined under Barack Obama," April 16, 2013
PolitiFact New Hampshire, "Most people trying to buy a gun illegally are never prosecuted, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte says," March 22
U.S. Department of Justice, Background checks for Firearm Transfers, 2010 - Statistical Tables, February 2013
Regional Justice Information Service, Enforcement of the Brady Act, 2010: Federal and State Investigations and Prosecutions of Firearm Applicants Denied by a NICS Check in 2010, August 2012
Interview with Ronald Frandsen, grants administrator for the Regional Justice Information Service, March 14, 2013
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