President Biden on Thursday outlined actions he was taking on gun violence in a speech that inaccurately described three firearm “loopholes” he sought to close.
“If you walk into a store and you buy a gun, you have a background check. But you go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want and no background check,” he said, repeating a familiar refrain among supporters for more gun control.
This was exaggerated. Licensed firearms dealers are required to look up potential buyers in a background check system before a sale is approved. Private sellers are not required to perform such background checks, and some do sell guns at gun shows. But that does not mean that all dealers at gun shows are private, or that all sales at those shows forgo a background check. In addition, 16 states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws requiring universal background checks, including at gun shows.
While there is little recent data on the topic, a 1999 study from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or A.T.F., found that half to three-quarters of sellers at gun shows were, in fact, licensed. A survey of gun owners published in 2017 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 22 percent of firearms purchased at gun shows did not include a background check.
Mr. Biden also left out important context when he described the so-called Charleston loophole.
“If the F.B.I. hasn’t — didn’t complete the background check within three days — there’s a process — if it wasn’t done in three days, according to the Charleston loophole, you get to buy the gun,” he said. “They bought the gun and killed a hell of a lot of innocent people who invited him to pray with them.”
It is true that if a background check is not completed within three business days, a firearm seller can proceed with the sale.
In 2015, Dylann S. Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine Black parishioners at a church in Charleston, purchased a firearm two months ahead of the shooting. That purchase was allowed to go forward after the F.B.I. did not explicitly block the sale within three days.
While Mr. Roof admitted to a drug offense a month before he purchased the gun, clerical errors prevented the F.B.I. from seeing that admission in time and blocking the gun purchase.
However, the bureau still had the power to deny a purchase after the fact, and then refer the case to A.T.F. agents to retrieve the gun, something it did not do in the case of Mr. Roof. In 2015, the F.B.I. made 3,648 retrieval referrals.
Additionally, Mr. Biden falsely claimed that gun manufacturing was the “the only industry in America, a billion-dollar industry, that can’t be sued.”
Congress passed a law in 2005 prohibiting lawsuits against firearm manufacturers “for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.” But they can still be subject to other types of lawsuits — for example, for breaches of warranty or if a manufacturer or dealer sells a gun knowing that it would be used in a crime.
The gun industry is also not the only industry to have special protections against lawsuits. For example, technology companies also enjoy a legal shield known as Section 230, which protects websites from liability for content created by their users.
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