When congressional Democrats staged a sit-in on the House floor last month to demand a vote on gun control measures, many of them touted a familiar policy solution: universal background checks.
Federal law already requires background checks for anyone purchasing a gun through a licensed dealer. But the law exempts private sales, a category that accounts for 40 percent of gun sales, according to one 1997 study. (Researchers are now working to update that figure.) That means there are few practical barriers keeping guns from people legally prohibited from owning them, usually because of a prior criminal record.
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