One of the most often repeated gun myths is that of the gun show loophole. Numerous candidates for political office – on state and national levels – have railed against gun shows, pledged to do away with the loophole and so on. However, as is usually the case, reality is a lot more complicated than the hype.
The major complaint, of course, is that anybody, ostensibly, can go into a gun show and buy a gun without undergoing a background check.
That isn’t actually the case, though in fairness it could be true, in a certain context and depending on what state the gun show is taking place and if the right conditions are met. That sounds a little convoluted – and it can certainly get that way. More on that in a minute.
For the most part, however, the common claim of no background check sales at gun shows is false, for two major reasons.
Firstly, a person that sells guns for a living has to have a license to do so, which is the Federal Firearms License, or FFL. Part and parcel to the FFL, as with any license, is a list of things a person holding the license is prohibited from doing or else the license will be revoked and one of those things is selling a gun to someone without conducting a background check. Once a person obtains an FFL, they cannot sell a gun to anyone, under any circumstances, without conducting one.
Second, who has the most guns to sell? Those would be licensed dealers. What not many people may be aware of is that firearms, like many other goods, are not bought from the manufacturer by one’s local gun store. The guns you see at your local brick and mortar store actually get to the local shop via a distributor.
Most retail works exactly the same way. Most people don’t (or can’t) buy a car straight from the factory; you go to a dealer. That said, you could order a vehicle with custom specs through a dealer. Likewise, you don’t buy a Shield straight from Smith and Wesson, but you can order a custom model and pick it up at a gun store.
With that being said, distributors are the ones who put the inventory in the stores. How does one get the inventory? By being a licensed dealer.
In other words, there two major obstacles to the gun show loophole are that most inventory – new and used – is in the hands of licensed dealers, and licensed dealers have to run a background check every time they sell a gun. Furthermore, most people are not going to risk their livelihood on the chance of making a few dollars in a dingy convention hall when following the rules results in the same profits and only takes a few more minutes.
Likewise, anyone not willing to submit to a background check…is probably not someone who should be sold a gun.
Where the critics have a point, at least on paper, is that the law only covers a licensed, professional dealer; a private party seller, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily have to run a background check, depending on the jurisdiction.
At the time of this writing, universal background checks have been suggested as a measure of gun control, where any purchase requires a background check. Some states have adopted universal background checks; California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and both Washingtons (Washington state and Washington D.C.) require any transfer or sale of a firearm to involve a background check.
Furthermore, there are 8 states that require a person to undergo a background check for a permit to purchase a firearm in any capacity. This can be for any firearm or just a handgun. Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey require the background check for a permit to buy any firearm, and Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and North Carolina require the background check and permit for a handgun only.
Maryland and Pennsylvania require a background check only for transfers or sales of any handgun.
All told, 18 states and the capital district have more stringent background check laws. Therefore, it is not the case that a person can walk into a gun show and buy a gun without one; they have to be in a state where it’s legal to do so.
Furthermore, some people aren’t willing to sell a firearm to someone without a background check. Many gun shows will have facilities available for conducting them, so the seller may insist on one being performed.
So, to sum up: it isn’t the case that a person can walk into a gun show and buy a gun without a background check. They potentially could, if they purchase from a private seller, at a gun show in a state that doesn’t require any background checks for private sales at all, from a seller that doesn’t want a background check to be conducted. So while there is a context in which it is true, it isn’t true the way that it’s normally stated by gun control advocates.
Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit AlienGearHolsters.com.