Fact Check: Biden’s Claims About Background Checks at Gun Shows Are Misleading

April 9, 2021 Updated: April 9, 2021

President Joe Biden’s claims that there are no background checks at firearms sales at gun shows have drawn criticism, with fact-checking websites saying that it is false.

Biden during a White House speech on Thursday asserted that a person could buy “whatever you want” at a gun show without a background check.

“Most people don’t know it, 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,” Biden said.

According to federal law, commercial sales of guns have to be performed by an individual with a Federal Firearms License (FFL), who then has to perform a mandatory background check of the buyer and a record of sale, regardless of whether the sale occurs at the seller’s place of business, a gun show, or elsewhere. Gun sales between private individuals are exempt from these requirements, but it only applies to residents of the same state.

The law stipulates that the seller can only make the sale if they do not have reasonable cause to believe the buyer is prohibited from owning a firearm under federal law. Meanwhile, some states have laws that prohibit gun sales between a non-dealer and an individual.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) (pdf), a firearms dealer has to get an FFL if they are “a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.”

“But,” the ATF adds, “such [a] term shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”

For years, some politicians have invoked the so-called “gun show loophole” while pushing for new legislation restricting the sale or ownership of firearms. However, a private seller—who is not a dealer—can sell to another person without conducting a background check at a gun show or anywhere else.

Biden’s comment was declared false by Factcheck.org: “That’s wrong. In fact, federal firearm dealers must run a background check on a potential buyer at a gun show using the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or a similar state system.” It said that the president was likely referring to private sales between a non-dealer and an individual at gun shows.

“Hobbyists who sell weapons in one-off private transactions are not required to be licensed or to run background checks,” the ATF said in a news release last year in announcing the arrests of three Texas men who pleaded guilty to unlicensed gun dealing at gun shows.

Politifact also said the president’s claim was “mostly false.”

Republicans also reacted to Biden’s assertion on Thursday.

“Joe Biden is either lying, never bought a gun at a gun show, or both,” former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows wrote on Twitter.

In his speech, Biden said he is taking executive action on guns, including regulating so-called “ghost guns,” declaring certain firearms using a stabilizing brace as rifles, and more. It comes after two mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, that left 18 people dead.