Understanding the ‘gun show loophole’

Once again, with all the discussions of gun rights and gun control, the discussion of the so-called “gun show loophole” has surfaced.  The thing is, most folks really don’t understand what this loophole is.  I’m going to illuminate those of you who are unfamiliar with it as to what it actually is.

The idea is that if you go to a gun show, anyone can just walk out of it with a firearm that required no background check and no paperwork.  In theory, you might, but there’s more going on there than the uninitiated realize.

The vast majority of guns sold at gun shows are sold by the vendors who buy booths at the shows.  These vendors have a Federal Firearms License, or FFL.  Because they have these licenses, they are required to go through all the necessary checks that would be required.  They call the FBI and run a background check, make you fill out the necessary paperwork, the whole shebang.

So what is the loophole?  Well, there really isn’t one.  What spurred the discussion of a loophole is that often times, a regular guy will take a gun to a gun show in hopes of selling or trading it for another gun.  I’ve seen FFL holders purchase these guns, then turn around and sell them a few hours later.  However, there is nothing to stop that same guy from selling that gun to me instead.

Because the seller isn’t an FFL holder, he’s not required to run any kind of background check on me.  This is what people are referring to as the gun show loophole.  So why is it not?

Well, to start with, it’s no different than a face to face purchase by a couple of guys.  It just happens to occur at a gun show.  Any law that seeks to close this loophole will have to do one of two things.

First, it will outlaw the private sale of firearms at gun shows.  This is a pain, but it won’t actually stop anything.  If Joe has a gun I want to buy, and he’s willing to sell it to me, then this law will just mean that we make an agreement to meet somewhere else to actually perform the transaction.  So, the so-called loophole is closed, and not a blasted thing actually changes.

The other thing would be an outright ban on the private sale of firearms.  This would probably be handled like out of state transfers, where you can sell it, but it has to be routed through an FFL holder who will run the necessary checks and require the appropriate paperwork.  Unfortunately, this one is impractical.  After all, there are millions of firearms out there that have been transferred time and time again without the benefit of an FFL touching them.  There’s really no way to actually enforce this law on these guns, simply because I can sell a gun and Uncle Sam never really know.  After all, if you find a gun that you have no record of me buying, then how do you know it was bought after the ban?

The idea of a gun show loophole scares the hell out of people who think that convicted felons and mentally ill people are just walking into these shows and walking out with machine guns.  Frankly, if that were happening, I’d probably be a little concerned as well.  However, that’s not happening.  In fact, these private transfers are a minute fraction of the sales that occur at gun shows.  The rest go through all the checks and balances that Congress has required thus far.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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