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Social media posts misrepresent bill expanding background checks for firearms

March 9, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Proposed federal gun legislation expanding background checks for firearms would create a “national registration of firearms” and put gun owners in jail for transferring or handing their gun to someone, even if they are in a dangerous situation. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. HR 8 prohibits using the bill to establish a national firearms registry and includes exceptions allowing temporary transfers between family members, or transfers between people for self-defense or for use at a shooting range. 

THE FACTS: Last week, a bill to require background checks on all gun sales was reintroduced in the House after stalling in the Senate two years ago. HR 8, Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 covers all firearm sales but notes several exemptions during transfers. Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of California, who chairs the congressional task force on gun violence prevention, is the primary sponsor of the bill. 

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Supporters of the bill say the legislation is intended to curb gun violence and keep guns out of the hands of people who are barred from owning firearms. Although there are background checks in place preventing people with criminal records from purchasing a firearm, there are loopholes where people can buy guns through private sales. 

“Right now, federal law only requires a background check if you purchase a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer and so private sales are exempt,” said Jake Charles, executive director at the Center for Firearms Law at the Duke University School of Law, in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “It’s often called the ‘gun show loophole’ because you can go to a gun show, and as long as the person isn’t required to register as a federally licensed dealer, you can purchase the gun without a background check.” 

The bill, if passed, would expand background checks on gun sales in the U.S. to close those sorts of loopholes.

Multiple social media posts describe the legislation inaccurately, calling it a gun registration bill. Charles says that description is “completely false.”

Not only does federal law prohibit a national gun registry, the bill clearly states: “Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to authorize the establishment, directly or indirectly, of a national firearms registry.”

One false Facebook post claims: “If enforced to the letter, H.R. 8 could put millions of gun owners in prison by outlawing the transfer of any firearm without a proper Brady Check. The term ‘transfer’ is nowhere defined, but it’s clear from the bill that handing your gun to a neighbor for as little as even one second counts as a ‘transfer.’”

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‘“The bill claims to offer some so-called ‘exceptions,’” the post continues, “but these will be practically useless to gun owners. For example, if you hand (or ‘transfer’) a firearm to a friend because you hear a noise in your house in the middle of the night -- and it turns out to be a false alarm -- you’re a criminal. Under H.R. 8, since every gun transfer will go through a dealer, every gun owner will have a 4473, setting the stage for a national gun registry.”

This is an inaccurate description of the legislation.

The Brady Bill established mandatory background checks for gun sales. While HR 8 would require background checks on all gun sales, it’s false to say that “every gun transfer will go through a dealer” since the bill’s text outlines several situations where the legislation would allow a transfer without a background check, including when it’s a loan or a gift between family members, or if the transfer is necessary to prevent death or harm. 

Alex Macfarlane, a spokesperson for Thompson, said several issues raised in the post were incorrect. “H.R. 8 does NOT require background checks to be conducted when a firearm is transferred to a family member,” Macfarlane said in an email. “The bill also includes a number of exemptions that would allow the temporary transfer of a gun under a variety of circumstances and purposes including: preventing imminent death or great bodily harm, or activities like hunting, going to a shooting range, or while in the presence of the gun owner.” 

Charles noted several states already require background checks for all gun sales.

“Some states have shown that it works and that it doesn’t lead to the prosecution of everybody who hands their gun to their neighbor for ‘one second.’”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536