Guns

Fact-checker Marco Rubio claims no weapons used in mass shootings were purchased online

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said strict gun regulations won’t prevent crimes like the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“Not a single one of these mass shootings was purchased at a gun show or on the internet,” Rubio said May 25. “If people want to do it, we can have this debate, but don’t associate it with these horrible events. They have nothing to do with it.

Rubio told reporters he would not support expanding background checks for commercial sales, such as gun shows, saying the issue was unrelated to mass shootings.

We wondered if Rubio’s characterization of where firearms from high-profile shootings were obtained was accurate. Research shows that is not the case.

Rubio did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Several guns used in mass shootings were purchased at gun shows, online

A 2015 report from the non-partisan body Congressional Research Service defined a “mass public shooting” as a multiple homicide incident where four or more victims are murdered with firearms.

By that standard, there were 66 public mass shootings from 1999 to 2013. A more recent analysis by advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety listed 274 mass shootings since 2009.

Contradicting Rubio’s claim, PolitiFact found several instances where the perpetrator of a high-profile shooting obtained his guns at a gun show or on the Internet.

In 1999, for example, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – the individuals behind the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado – acquired their guns at a gun show with the help of a 18 year old classmate.

At least one of the handguns Seung-Hui Cho used to kill 33 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 was purchased online, according to the Virginien-Pilot.

Jody Lee Hunt, a convicted felon, purchased a firearm through a private seller on Facebook. In 2014, Hunt used the gun to kill his former girlfriend, a business owner, and two other people in West Virginia.

Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to conduct background checks on potential buyers. However, federal law does not impose this requirement on unlicensed sellers, who typically sell guns online or at gun shows.

It should be noted that some licensed gun dealers sell online or at gun shows and do background checks on their sales. It is the seller’s licensing status that determines whether or not there is a background check.

Rubio’s broader point was that expanding the background check requirement to include unlicensed sellers would not prevent a mass shooting, saying such sales are not correlated with such crimes. Experts, however, disagreed with this argument.

John Donohuea Stanford University law professor who brings a strong data approach to gun crimes, said focusing only on mass shootings misses the broader picture of crimes where these weapons appear.

“Murderers and everyday criminals frequently get their guns without going through background checks,” Donohue told PolitiFact. “Because the 18-year-old mass murderer in Uvalde bought his gun directly from an authorized dealer is no reason to oppose closing a dangerous loophole in US law.”

Our decision

Rubio said, “Not a single one of these mass shootings was purchased at a gun show or on the internet.”

PolitiFact found several instances where firearms used in a mass shooting were purchased online or at a gun show. A high-profile example includes the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School.

Rubio provided no evidence to support his claim. We assess his claim as false.