Most Maryland gun buyers undergo background checks


(Ralph D. Freso/Reuters)
March 1, 2013

Three-quarters of Marylanders who bought guns over the past decade say they completed a background check before being allowed to make their most recent purchase, and the vast majority bought guns in traditional gun shops, according to a new Washington Post poll.

The survey arrives as Maryland's Senate passed sweeping new gun restrictions Friday proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), including expanded background checks and a handgun licensing program. While Maryland law currently requires background checks for handgun and assault rifle purchases, little information has been available on the share of gun shoppers who undergo such checks — either in Maryland or nationally.

In the new poll, 77 percent of Maryland residents who bought a gun in the past 10 years say they went through a background check; 21 percent say they did not. (Given the rarity of Marylanders purchasing guns, there is a sizable 11.5 percentage point error margin for the results among this group.) 

The vast majority of buyers — 81 percent — say they made their purchase at a traditional gun store rather than a gun show (9 percent) or somewhere else (10 percent). The poll finds little correlation between location of purchase and undergoing a background check.

While people buying guns from federally licensed stores have, since 1998, been required to undergo an instant FBI background check, it’s not clear the people  who say they didn’t undergo background checks broke the law. The survey asked about gun buying experiences over a 10-year period, so respondent recall may be an issue. The point precision is also not exact, given the relatively small number of Marylanders who say they have purchased a gun in the past decade.

While nearly three in 10 Marylanders live in households with a firearm, buying a gun is a rare experience in the state. Only one in 10 residents say they've personally bought a firearm at any point in the past 10 years, including only three in 10 of those in gun households.

The survey paints a nuanced portrait of these recent gun buyers. The group is overwhelmingly male (79 percent) and white (74 percent), and equally split between Democrats and Republicans, while Marylanders overall lean steeply toward the Democrats. But recent gun shoppers largely resemble the rest of the state in other respects, such as age, income and education.

The Post poll was conducted Feb. 21-24, among a random sample of 1,156 adult residents of Maryland. The results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. The error margin is 11.5 points for the sample of 103 respondents who bought a gun in the past 10 years.

Writer Aaron C. Davis, Capital Insight polling director Jon Cohen and pollster Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.

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