How many guns are sold without a background check?

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How Many Guns are Sold Without a Background Check?

Background checks for gun buyers are a hot political topic, and proponents of expanding them often cite a loophole at gun shows and online.

So how many guns are we talking about? No one really knows.

The Brady Campaign estimates 40 percent of all gun sales are completed without a background check, but that statistic is based on a survey released in 1997 and there's no way to know whether that percentage holds true today.

Background checks are required for all sales through federally licensed firearms dealers, regardless of whether the sale is in a store, at a gun show or online. But multiple laws prevent the government from keeping track of those sales in a centralized database.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates there are somewhere between 2,000 and 5,200 gun shows in the U.S. each year. But no one really knows how many private sellers, the ones not required to run background checks, set up booths at those shows.

RELATED: Hillary Clinton with mothers of victims of gun violence:

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Hillary Clinton with mothers of victims of gun violence
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Hillary Clinton with mothers of victims of gun violence
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, right, holds hands with Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, as she reacts to Fulton's statement during a rally at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. Clinton spoke and then heard from mothers of victims of gun violence. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is applauded during a campaign event at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, with mothers of victims of gun violence from left Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, Clinton, and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Lucia McBath, left, mother of Jordan Davis, and Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, react as Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, talks about her son next to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a rally at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, with mothers of victims of gun violence. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, with mothers of victims of gun violence from left Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, left, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, and Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
SUMTER, SC - FEBRUARY 22: Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, whose son was killed due to gun violence, poses for photos with audience members following a Hillary Clinton for South Carolina 'Breaking Down Barriers' forumon February 22, 2016 at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina. Five mothers whose sons were killed from gun violence and police incidents participated in forums in three cities across South Carolina to share their stories, ahead of the Democratic Presidential Primary this Saturday. The participants were Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; and Lucy McBath, mother of Jordan Davis. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
SUMTER, SC - FEBRUARY 22: Hillary Clinton campaign staff members confer before a 'Breaking Down Barriers' forum at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter, SC on February 22, 2016. Five mothers whose sons were killed from gun violence and police incidents participated in forums in three cities across South Carolina to share their stories, ahead of the Democratic Presidential Primary this Saturday. The participants were Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; and Lucy McBath, mother of Jordan Davis. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - FEBRUARY 23: U.S. presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens as Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, speaks at the Central Baptist Church February 23, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. The South Carolina Democratic primary is February 27. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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The latest study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimates federally licensed dealers make up anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of gun show sellers, meaning the number of private sellers could be anywhere from 25 to 50 percent. But not all booths at gun shows sell firearms. Some of those private sellers could be offering attire, accessories or knives, and not guns.

As for online sales, there's no shortage of websites listing firearms, but many of them are federally licensed dealers, meaning all those buyers still undergo a background check.

Armslist.com seems to be one of the largest websites for private sellers. It's like Craigslist for guns and boasts over 7 million visits each month. But the site doesn't list an estimate of how many guns are sold with Armslist's help.

Whether purchased with or without a background check, there's also no official estimate on the total number of guns purchased in the U.S. The closest we come is the number of background checks run on potential buyers, keeping in mind not all buyers will complete the purchase.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System has run more than 241 million background checks since the program began in 1998. Less than 1 percent of potential gun buyers have been denied.

Supporters of universal background checks say our sales loopholes make it easier for criminals to get their hands on guns. Opponents say expanded checks will infringe on Americans' Second Amendment rights. But with our current laws, there's no way to know how many guns we're talking about.

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