What is a gun show?
Gun shows are temporary markets for guns and ammunition, usually held at meeting halls or fairgrounds. Unlike gun stores, both federally licensed dealers and unlicensed sellers can sell guns.
In 1998, over 4,400 gun shows were conducted around the country. 478 were held in Texas alone.1 The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) estimates on average 2,500 – 5,000 gun shows are held annually. In general, between 25% to 50% of sellers are not licensed dealers.2 The access to anonymous sales and the availability of large numbers of secondhand guns makes gun shows attractive to criminals and other prohibited purchasers. A federal study found that 10% of guns used in crime by juveniles were sold either at a gun show or a flea market, and in 1999, gun shows were associated with approximately 26,000 firearms used in crime.3, 4
What is the difference between a licensed dealer and an unlicensed seller?
Federal Firearm Licensees (FFL’s) are individuals “engaged in the business” of selling guns and are required to register with and be licensed by the US government. They are also required to conduct instant criminal background checks on all gun buyers -and are prohibited from selling guns to convicted felons, domestic abusers, and juveniles.
Unlicensed sellers are people who may sell a small or large amount of guns but do not (or are not supposed to) earn their livelihood from firearm sales. These sellers do not have to conduct criminal background checks on gun sales. Unlicensed sellers may sell guns at gun shows, out of their homes, or even over the Internet.
What is the “gun show loophole”?
The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires anyone engaged in the business of selling guns to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and keep a record of their sales. However, this law does not cover all gun sellers. If a supplier is selling from his or her private collection and the principal objective is not to make a profit, the seller is not “engaged in the business” and is not required to have a license. Because they are unlicensed, these sellers are not required to keep records of sales and are not required to perform background checks on potential buyers, even those prohibited from purchasing guns by the Gun Control Act. The gun show loophole refers to the fact that prohibited purchasers can avoid required background checks by seeking out these unlicensed sellers at gun shows.
Why is it important to get rid of the gun show loophole?
The gun show loophole makes it very easy for guns to fall into the hands of prohibited individuals, including criminals and juveniles. Closing the loophole would put a barrier between the legal and illegal markets for guns. It is more difficult for law enforcement to trace firearms sold on the secondary market. Second-hand firearms typically have left the possession of a licensed dealer, where records are kept, and reached the hands of an unlicensed seller, who is not required to keep records.
How can we close the gun show loophole?
It’s simple. Closing the dangerous loophole merely requires unlicensed gun sellers at gun shows to conduct the same instant background checks that licensed dealers must conduct.
Do background checks work?
Yes. Since 1994, the Brady Act has prevented more than 1.3 million criminals and other prohibited purchasers from buying guns. The law also has a deterrent effect-felons, domestic abusers and other prohibited purchasers are less likely to try to buy guns when they know comprehensive background check requirements are in place.
Can’t we just enforce existing laws instead of passing new ones?
In order to enforce existing laws, we must give police the tools they need to do so – and the criminal background check is one of the most effective tools we can give them to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. The current law barring sales to prohibited buyers such as convicted felons or fugitives from justice cannot be enforced effectively unless sellers are required to verify that their buyers are not in a prohibited category.
If we want to better enforce existing laws, we need to do everything possible to prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals – and that means conducting background checks on all sales at guns shows, the second largest source for crime guns.
Won’t closing the gun show loophole violate the Second Amendment?
No. No matter what your interpretation of the Second Amendment is, it is illegal for criminals and youth to get guns, and federal law already requires background checks for sales by licensed dealers. We need background checks at guns shows to protect law-abiding citizens while keeping guns out of the hands of those prohibited from owning them.
Won’t requiring background checks on all sales at gun shows be a bureaucratic nightmare?
Closing the gun show loophole would merely involve unlicensed gun sellers at gun shows implementing that same system. More than 95% of background checks are completed within two hours, and most are completed in just two minutes.
Will closing the gun show loophole put gun shows out of business?
No. Three of the five states that host the most gun shows – Illinois, Pennsylvania, and California – closed the gun show loophole years ago, and gun shows continue to thrive.
Which states have closed the gun show loophole?
Only six states (California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island) require universal background checks on allfirearm sales at gun shows, including sales by unlicensed dealers. Three more states (Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania) require background checks on all handgun sales made at gun shows. Eight other states (Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Nebraska and North Carolina) require purchasers to obtain a permit and undergo a background check before buying a handgun. 33 states have taken no action whatsoever to close the gun show loophole.
In two states, voters themselves closed the loophole when their legislatures refused to do so. On November 7, 2000, the citizens of Colorado overwhelmingly voted 70% – 30% in favor of Amendment 22, closing the gun show loophole in their state. The referendum followed the tragic shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 (the guns used in the shooting were purchased from private sellers at Denver gun shows). In Oregon, voters also voted overwhelmingly, 62% – 38%, in favor of Measure 5, effectively closing the gun show loophole in their state.
1 U.S. Department of Justice and Treasury. “Gun Shows: Brady Checks and Crime Gun Traces,” January 1999.
3 U.S. Department of Justice and Treasury. “Commerce in Firearms in the United States.” February 2000.
4 U.S. Department of Justice and Treasury. “Following the Gun: Enforcing Federal Laws Against Firearms Traffickers,” June 2000.