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Fact-checking Marco Rubio claim that no guns used in mass shootings were bought online

PolitiFact | Rubio told reporters he wouldn’t support expanding background checks for commercial sales, like gun shows.
Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during a press conference in Tampa on April 19, 2022.
Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during a press conference in Tampa on April 19, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 28|Updated Jun. 2

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said stringent gun regulations would not prevent crimes like the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“There hasn’t been a single (one) of these mass shootings that have been purchased at a gun show or on the internet,” Rubio said on May 25. “If people want to do it, we can have that debate, but don’t link it to these horrible events. They have nothing to do with it.”

The Miami Republican told reporters he wouldn’t support expanding background checks for commercial sales, like gun shows, saying that the issue is unrelated to mass shootings.

We wondered whether Rubio’s characterization of where firearms from high-profile shootings were obtained was accurate. Research shows that it’s not.

Rubio did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Several firearms used in mass shootings were bought at gun shows, online

A 2015 report from the nonpartisan 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 mass public shootings from 1999 to 2013. A more recent analysis from advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety listed 274 mass shootings since 2009.

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

In 1999, for example, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold — the individuals behind the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado — acquired their firearms at a gun show with the help of an 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 Virginian-Pilot. Jody Lee Hunt, a felon, bought a firearm through a private seller on Facebook. In 2014, Hunt used the gun to kill his former girlfriend, a business owner, and two others in West Virginia.

Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to perform background checks on prospective buyers. However, federal law does not impose that requirement on unlicensed sellers, who generally sell guns online or at gun shows.

It’s worth noting that some licensed firearm dealers do sell online or at gun shows, and they perform background checks on their sales. It’s the seller’s licensing status that determines whether there’s a background check or not.

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

John Donohue, a Stanford University law professor who brings a strong data approach to gun crimes, said focusing just on mass shootings misses the larger picture of the crimes where these weapons show up.

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“Everyday murderers and criminals frequently procure their guns without going through background checks,” Donohue told PolitiFact. “Because the 18-year-old mass killer in Uvalde purchased his weapon directly from a licensed dealer is not a reason to oppose closing a dangerous loophole in American law.”

Our ruling

Rubio said, “There hasn’t been a single (one) of these mass shootings that have been purchased at a gun show or on the internet.”

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

Rubio didn’t provide any evidence to support his assertion. We rate his claim False.

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