At the center of President Obama's new executive orders on guns is an attempt to assure that as many people as possible who are buying them are subjected to federal background checks. As he noted during Tuesday's introduction of his plan, it's not a step that would have prevented many of the high-profile mass shootings in recent months. But, he argues, increased background checks would necessarily keep some guns out of the hands of some people who shouldn't have one -- or at least raise the bar for their acquiring one.
(It's worth noting, to that point, that nearly every background check is passed. Since 1998, only 0.56 percent of checks have been failed.)
Right now, the law stipulates that only gun dealers need to conduct background checks on buyers. Individuals are free to sell weapons to others if they want. Obama's plan is to shift the definition of who the government considers to be a gun dealer to require that people who regularly sell weapons at gun shows and people who sell online will need to conduct background checks, too.
We can see what effect that will have if we look at a recent poll from Quinnipiac University, which asked gun owners where they had purchased their firearms. (Since many gun owners own multiple weapons, people could indicate multiple sources for them.)
The most common category was a purchase made in a local or chain gun store -- a place where a background check would certainly be conducted.
What Obama is targeting, as mentioned above, is gun shows and online sales -- places where only a small percentage of gun owners purchase weapons. The new standard Obama will apply means that some of these sales would now be by people considered to be "engaging in the business" of selling guns, who would now have to do background checks.
(It's worth noting that some states already mandate background checks at gun shows.)
Notice the gender split in these, by the way. Men are more likely to buy guns. Women are more likely to get guns from family or friends.
Many of these are presumably gifts, for which there's no background check, obviously.
One question mark is those who buy from other private sellers. In some cases, those sellers would fall under the rules that will now apply to gun shows and online sales, but they would in most cases be harder to track.
Overriding all of this, of course, is the mantra of opposition to gun control measures: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Those who aren't allowed to own guns aren't obtaining firearms through a process that would require a background check, of course, and likely aren't included in the polling.
Obama's move is aimed at ensuring that more people are subject to background checks -- but that alone doesn't promise that background checks will then screen out more people seeking firearms.