Study: 41% of Americans think federal universal background check law exists

A pair of Yale University researchers have suggested that better-educating the general public about the true limits of existing gun control laws could help build support for stronger legislation.

Peter M. Aronow and Benjamin T. Miller, researchers in Yale’s political science department, published an article in The Lancet earlier this month that they say shows that while there is strong support for universal background checks, many Americans believe, in error, that these laws are already in effect, and so do not support new legislation.

In a national poll of 1,384 Americans – the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study — Miller and Aronow questioned participants about both their attitudes towards gun laws, as well as their knowledge of those laws.

“No one had ever asked those questions on the same survey. So we ran our own,” Miller told The Trace.

According to the researchers they found that while much of the their survey pool – 77 percent – supports universal background checks, only 53 percent reported that they would favor making gun control laws more strict.

The study suggests that the difference might be a result of “poor awareness of the limitations of existing laws,” as 41 percent of those surveyed seemed to believe that universal background checks are already required by federal law, while 47 percent “correctly reported” that a background check is only required for certain gun purchases.

About 12 percent of those surveyed thought that no background checks were required.

The researchers also discovered an engagement gap between those in favor of more strict laws and those who thought gun laws should be more lax.

According to the survey, 71 percent of voters who thought gun laws should be more lax said “they would never vote for a political candidate who did not share their position on gun control, compared with just 34 percent of those who support stricter gun laws.”

Federal law currently requires background checks on people who purchase firearms from licensed firearm dealers, but not for private sales in person, at gun shows or online.

The study authors suggest at the outset that “universal background checks for gun purchases could substantially reduce the number of gun-related deaths in the USA.”

However, the National Rifle Association opposes any expansion of background check systems – whether at the state or federal level.

According to the NRA-ILA’s website, expanding background checks won’t prevent gun crimes because federal government studies “show that people sent to state prison because of gun crimes typically get guns through theft, on the black market, or from family members or friends, and nearly half of illegally trafficked firearms originate with straw purchasers — people who can pass background checks, who buy guns for criminals on the sly.”

The Lancet is a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal that has been in publication since 1823.