The War On Gun Shows
Thursday, January 21, 2010
The War on Gun Shows Mayor Bloomberg`s new "study" promotes
anti-gunners` real goals: reducing gun sales and registering
In October, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg fired the
latest salvo in gun control supporters` decades-old campaign for
federal laws to reduce gun sales and to impose gun registration.
Implementing a strategy laid out by the Violence Policy Center
(VPC) in the 1990s and pushed in Congress by Sen. Frank Lautenberg,
D-N.J., from 1998 forward, Bloomberg`s target was a part of the
Second Amendment community that benefits over one million gun
owners annually. His target is a part of our community that gives
us access to broad varieties of guns and related equipment--and
lets us gather to develop the grassroots clout that has made us one
of the most powerful political forces in the country.
As you might have guessed, I`m talking about gun shows. In a
news conference dutifully covered by anti-gun newspapers, Bloomberg
announced what he claimed was "a wide ranging undercover
investigation by the city of New York into illegal gun sales"
which, according to Bloomberg, found "74 percent of gun show
sellers" conduct themselves with "a willful disregard of the law."
The newspapers didn`t say it, so I will: Bloomberg`s
"investigation" was a sham. As its official report states, the
city`s operatives attended just seven shows and only in states that
(according to Bloomberg`s misuse of trace data) "supply crime guns
trafficked across state lines at the highest rates." Within those
states, they selected local areas with the highest rates of
incidence of "federal prosecutions for straw buying and
trafficking" and "proximity to urban areas experiencing gang
violence." And ultimately they focused on just 47 sellers whom they
thought showed "visual signs of engaging in the business without a
license" or "tell-tale signs of straw purchases."
This could easily be a story about the anti-gun obsession of an
ego-driven local politician trying to become relevant on a national
level. After all, the last time Bloomberg pulled a similar stunt,
federal law enforcement sources complained he may have compromised
as many as 20 criminal investigations.
The U.S. Department of Justice warned him there were "potential
legal liabilities that may attach when persons outside of law
enforcement undertake actions typically reserved for law
enforcement agents," such as when people "without proper law
enforcement authority, misrepresent that they are the actual
purchasers of the firearms," and "unintentionally interrupt or
jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations." And Virginia`s
Attorney General Bob McDonnell--now newly elected as the Old
Dominion`s governor--warned Bloomberg he may have violated state
law as well, and won passage of state legislation to deter future
meddling. But "Hizzoner" still refuses to take the hint. The real
story, however, is more complex than Bloomberg`s political
shenanigans--and it explains why gun control supporters focus so
intensely on gun shows.
Gun control supporters` desire to get firearms registered
nationwide goes back to the debate over the National Firearms Act
of 1934, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt`s attorney general, Homer
Cummings, pushed for the Act to require handgun registration. That
proposal (and another that would have defined "machine gun" to
include semi-automatics) failed, due to the NRA`s strong
In the 1970s, the National Council to Control Handguns (the
predecessor of today`s Brady Campaign), raised the specter of
handgun registration again, and in a moment of overconfidence
admitted why it considered registration so important.
As the group`s leader described it, "The first problem is to
slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold
in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered.
And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and
all handgun ammunition--except for the military, policemen,
licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs and licensed gun
Not only did Congress reject that three-step plan, but in 1986
it passed the NRA-supported Firearms Owners` Protection Act (FOPA).
Among its many key reforms, FOPA amended the Gun Control Act (GCA)
of 1968 to reduce burdens on gun dealers and record-keeping on gun
First, FOPA allowed federally licensed firearm dealers to do
business at gun shows. (Until then, a dealer could only operate at
the address on his license.) Second, FOPA ended abusive
prosecutions of gun collectors by making clear a person does not
need a license to occasionally sell firearms to reduce or improve a
personal gun collection. And third, FOPA eliminated the GCA`s
record-keeping requirement on sales of handgun ammunition. (For
more on that issue, see p. 50.) During the Clinton administration,
however, two developments gave gun control supporters new hope of
reducing gun sales.
First, the 1993 Brady bill increased dealer licensing fees
significantly. Second, and more important, the 1994 Clinton crime
bill included language that let the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms deny license renewals on the basis of local zoning
ordinances. As a result of that and other Clinton administration
policies, the number of FFLs in the country was reduced by 75
percent within just a few years.
Once again, though, things didn`t go the way anti-gunners hoped.
Gun sales actually increased at a faster pace than the increase in
the U.S. population. And as gun control supporters are sorely
aware, the nation`s thousands of gun shows each year are among the
main reasons for that trend.
That`s why, in the 1990s, anti-gun groups and politicians began
claiming a so-called "gun show loophole" gives criminals "easy
access" to guns by letting people other than dealers sell guns at
shows without running their transactions through the National
Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
To be sure, it`s not a "loophole," because FOPA made clear no
license is required to make "occasional sales, exchanges or
purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection
or for a hobby," or to "[sell] all or part of [a] personal
collection of firearms." But an argument over legal technicalities
misses the point. It`s not about criminals getting guns--the
federal government`s own studies have found that less than one
percent of people in prison for using guns in felonies got their
guns from shows. For gun control supporters, it`s really about the
American people owning guns.
Bloomberg says his publicity stunt proves the need to pass S.
843 and H.R. 2324, legislation introduced in Congress by Sen.
Lautenberg and Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., respectively. But those
bills propose far more than requiring background checks. Modeled
after the template published by the Violence Policy Center in 1996,
they would require gun show promoters to register with the attorney
general and to pay unspecified fees to operate shows. Promoters
would have to maintain ledgers of all non-dealers who so much as
bring guns to shows--and H.R. 2324 would also require promoters to
provide those ledgers to the attorney general. Shows typically last
just two or three days, but both bills would require all such
non-dealers to sign the ledgers before the shows begin, a
restriction that would seriously suppress attendance.
Gun control supporters` lips may lie, but their actions don`t.
In 1999, Sen. Lautenberg`s allies had their chance to vote for
legislation that would have required NICS checks on private
trans-actions at shows, but they voted it down because it didn`t go
As always, anti-gunners want more. And if they get what they
want now, they will soon demand additional restrictions. VPC has
already proposed FFLs be issued only to storefront businesses, and
dealers at shows be prohibited from selling handguns and "assault
weapons." The Brady Campaign demands that all private gun sales be
run through NICS, even if they don`t take place at a gun show, and
even if they`re between family members or friends.
That`s how gun sales are already regulated in California. And if
all private gun sales were subjected to NICS, it would not be long
before Brady demanded the FBI maintain a record of all handgun
Gun control supporters aren`t interested in preventing criminals
from obtaining guns; otherwise they wouldn`t focus on gun
The Bureau of Justice Statistics has twice reported that most
criminals get their guns from the street or other illegal sources.
And BATFE has noted theft is a major source of criminals` guns.
If crime control isn`t the real goal, the intent should be
clear. Gun control supporters attack gun shows because the shows
are an integral part of the Second Amendment community.
Next time you go to a gun show, think about what you`re seeing.
It`s a distinctly American event that helps keep Americans supplied
with the equipment we need for self-defense, training, competition
and hunting. It`s an event that brings us together to share our
common interests. And perhaps most importantly--thanks in part to
many show promoters` donations of table space and reduced admission
charges for NRA members--it`s an event that helps us stay informed
and organized in the never-ending fight to protect our Right to
Keep and Bear Arms.