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Selling a gun to a stranger without a background check: acceptable behaviour?


Objective One way that guns get into the wrong hands is via gun sales without a background check. While the large majority of Americans support laws requiring universal background checks, no prior study has assessed whether Americans think it is acceptable behaviour to sell a gun to a stranger without a background check, whether or not there is a law against it.

Methods We sponsored a nationally representative survey of over 3900 American adults, oversampling gun owners, using an online panel provided by the survey firm Growth for Knowledge.

Results Over 72% of American adults agree or strongly agree with the statement that ‘whether it is legal or not, it is NOT acceptable to sell a gun to a stranger without a background check’ and 11% disagree or strongly disagree. Subgroups less likely to agree are young adults, men, conservatives, those with less than a high school education and gun owners.

Conclusion Reducing the number of guns sold without a background check could help reduce the flow of guns to felons. Changes in normative attitudes and behaviours, as well as changes in law, could help accomplish this goal. Most Americans, including gun owners, believe selling a gun to a stranger without a background check is not acceptable behaviour.

  • firearms
  • background check
  • norms

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