Is There Really A "Gun Show Loophole?"

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We've had more than one mass shooting a day in 2019. In my attempts to understand more about the gun control debate, I’ve discovered the infamous “gun show loophole,” defined by Wikipedia as follows:

Gun show loophole is a political term in the United States referring to the sale of firearms by private sellers, including those done at gun shows, that do not meet federal background check requirements. This is dubbed the private sale exemption or “secondary market”.[1][2]

Federal law requires background checks for commercial gun sales, but not for private-party sales whereby any person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of the same state as long as they do not know or do not have reasonable cause to believe the purchaser is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law.[3][4][5]

Under federal law, private-party sellers are not required to perform background checks on buyers, record the sale, or ask for identification, whether at a gun show or other venue. This is in contrast to sales by gun stores and other Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders, who are required to perform background checks and record all sales on almost all buyers, regardless of whether the venue is their business location or a gun show. Some states have passed laws to require background checks for private sales with limited exceptions. Access to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is limited to FFL holders.

Since the mid-1990s, gun control advocates have campaigned for universal background checks. Advocates for gun rights have stated that there is no loophole, that current laws provide a single, uniform set of rules for commercial gun sellers regardless of the place of sale, and that the United States Constitution does not empower the federal government to regulate non-commercial, intrastate transfers of legal firearms between private citizens.[6]

I have had conservatives explain to me that a private gun sale between two people is a private gun sale between two people, and there is no difference in the sale wherever it takes place.

That set me to thinking a bit, about the differences in a sale at a store or a show vs. a buyer and seller who meet through a newspaper ad, on the internet, or places where people already known to one another may exchange a weapon.

I really do think there is a qualitative difference in how people get together to buy and sell merchandise.

(The following, of course, assumes the seller does care who he sells to. If you’re a criminal, you don’t care, and if I am, neither do I, but most people are law-abiding and they do care.)

I’ve bought jewelry from ads online, and the seller and I met at Starbucks and chatted a bit before I handed over $200 and bought someone’s diamond-and-sapphire snowflake pendant and drove it home.

The reason there is no “Starbucks loophole” (assuming I could meet someone there to exchange a firearm; currently Starbucks does not allow firearms in its stores as far as I know, so I’m using that just for an example):

To privately buy a gun from one person, rather than at some public venue where people flock specifically for the purpose of buying and selling guns, is that you have to contact the person somehow, you have to know the person in some way.

Maybe it was an ad in a newspaper or online, but to buy or sell, as we did with the piece of jewelry, you have to search a person out and form some relationship. “I’m looking for a gun to buy, I understand you have one to sell.”

Even if I see a newspaper ad and I call you on the phone to arrange to purchase your gun, you still have to talk to me, we have to arrange to meet, you get some idea whether I’m a kook or not. Such as I did with my online diamond and sapphire purchase.

I spent enough time with the lady to form some kind of impression of who she was, what she was like, and why she was selling her jewelry. It’s almost impossible not to, in the process of haggling over the price and where and when you’re going to meet.

At a show, it would seem the sellers likely have many more guns for sale at one time than a privately arranged sale for one or two guns between two parties.

At any retail-like atmosphere where a seller has a lot of merchandise to sell and the public troops through all day long, the seller doesn’t know much about the buyer. The faces meld into each other all day long; there’s less of an opportunity to know anything about anybody.

If I have only one or two guns to sell and you meet me someplace, even if you're a total stranger, I have more opportunity that way in interacting with you to decide something is off about you. Maybe I decide I should wait to sell my gun to somebody who doesn’t have a weird vibe.

You’re interacting with me one on one, we actually talk more about the gun and we probably exchange small talk, focused one on one.

It’s not part of a busy weekend jam-packed with a million people while I’m standing at a table trying to make sure my merchandise doesn’t get stolen, after I’ve gotten there at an early hour to load in tons of stuff, maybe after having driven a long distance with my wares to attend the show.

I’m not hungry, tired, or needing to go to the restroom, and worried if I’m going to sell enough to make my trip worthwhile.

A very important point: Let’s not forget that many private sales are probably arranged between people who already know each other. I may have heard you want to sell your gun through our mutual friend John, who knows me and knows I’m not crazy.

Or we shoot together at steel matches. Or, I contact you to buy your gun privately because I already know you from church, say, and that’s how I heard you are selling it. You know me from church, so you know I’m not nuts.

I’m sure private sales were regulated differently than retail sales specifically with this sort of relationship in mind. SeewhutImean?

And I’m not sure the law differentiates enough between a sales relationship where people know one another; and one that’s more like a store, where lots of guns and lots of people congregate, and do not know one another.

Lastly, in some public venue where it is understood lots of guns will be there — anybody can just come in and there’s a jillion guns for sale — that stands a good chance to draw anyone of questionable mental health thinking of procuring a gun, and it’s easier for these people to just blend in.

In the retail store, those sellers have to screen people, but at a show, which is essentially the same as a store — a huge collection of guns offered for public sale and meant to draw a crowd — some of those sellers don’t have to screen anyone.

And it isn’t the same relationship as another private sale, at least to my thinking.

The two sales are not the same, because in the vast majority of cases the social relationship is different and the number of guns and people involved is different.

I can see why people think of this as a loophole, looking at it from this standpoint.

I didn’t know all the history behind it, however. (Thanks to Jim Roye for the link.)

To be realistic, laws can be passed that are shortsighted; although, one questions whether those folks who lost their FFL licenses after reform passed in 1994 were really doing background checks from their kitchen tables in the first place.

It would seem the contention on the part of the federal government was that they were not, and that some of these sales were criminal in nature; which is why the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was deemed necessary in the first place. (If I’m understanding the issue correctly.)

If people aren’t going to follow the law and do background checks, they should lose their license to sell, right?

Considering all these nuances of the situation shows us why, when considering regulating firearms purchases any more, lots of discussion on issues such as this can only be productive.

The key is that the people making the laws get educated.

I can learn and consider all this, but I will never be a member of a legislative body tasked with writing and passing any prospective gun control law in my state.

And I must point out that lawmakers are one ignorant bunch. Look at the idiots attempting to legislate abortion access, for example.

I know more about how the human female body works after one biology class in college almost thirty years ago than these morons ever did. “If a woman is actually raped her body just doesn’t get pregnant”?? OMG.

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So, thinking about all this, is the “gun show loophole” a real thing to you? Should it exist?

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.