Will Gun Shows Become Extinct?
Monday, June 28, 2010
GUN SHOWS ARE ONCE AGAIN under attack.
And this time, the attackers have a nearly limitless war chest with
which to press the battle.
Funding and leading the attack is Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York City. This
spring, Bloomberg launched a national advertising campaign against
gun shows, with full-page newspaper ads demanding that senators
co-sponsor the anti-gun show bill, S. 843. The lead sponsor of that
bill is Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
Why target gun shows?
Second Amendment Tradition
The first reason is that the gun prohibition lobbies, aided by
the media, have convinced many Americans that there is such a thing
as a "gun-show loophole." In truth, the laws concerning the sale of
guns at gun shows are exactly the same as for the sale of guns
anywhere else, but gun-banners won't tell you that.
The second reason was expressed by Alameda County, Calif.,
Supervisor Mary King, who sponsored the ordinance that now
prohibits gun shows on Alameda County property. She said that gun
shows "provide a place for people to display guns for worship as
deities for the collectors who treat them as icons of patriotism."
King complained that her previous efforts to ban gun shows have
"gotten the runaround from spineless people hiding behind the
Of course, only in the twisted imaginations of bigots like King
do people "worship" guns "as deities." But it is true that gun
shows are often patriotic gatherings, where people who love our
country and our Constitution buy and sell collectible guns, books
and historical memorabilia.
At gun shows, pro-Second Amendment organizations have a unique
opportunity to distribute literature to gun owners--informing them
about national and local legislative action, and explaining how
citizens can share their pro-rights views with their elected
Gun shows provide the single most important, inexpensive way for
grassroots pro-rights groups to communicate with the many gun
owners who are not members of a group. Destroying gun shows would
significantly weaken the influence of grassroots organizations.
From the viewpoints of Michael Bloomberg and fellow gun-hating
billionaire George Soros, who fund the anti-gun lobbies, that
result would be quite desirable. These power-hungry globalists are
constantly pushing for laws to muzzle the National Rifle
Association and other activist groups. Meanwhile, these ultra-rich
gun-banners enjoy unlimited ability to buy media and influence
elections, thanks to self-serving loopholes they put into their
laws restricting the political speech of ordinary people.
Gutting Gun Shows
So how does Bloomberg's gun bill threaten gun shows? Simple: It
gives an unelected federal bureaucrat the unilateral power to tax
and regulate them out of existence.
Based on the Bloomberg advertising campaign, a naïve newspaper
reader might think that S. 843 is only about background checks at
gun shows. (More on that topic below.) But in fact, three-quarters
of the bill has nothing to do with background checks.
For example, gun show promoters do not sell guns. The promoters
simply operate the shows, renting table space to the people who do
Yet the Bloomberg/Lautenberg S. 843 would give the U.S. attorney
general unlimited power to impose fees on gun show operators. An
anti-gun attorney general--such as current Attorney General Eric
Holder--could simply make the fees so exorbitant that nobody could
operate a gun show at a profit.
S. 843 would also give the attorney general unlimited power to
impose regulations on gun show promoters. Again, these regulations
could intentionally be made so onerous, time-consuming and complex
that many gun shows would be driven completely out of business.
Further, S. 843 would require every gun show operator to be
registered with the federal government. The attorney general could
require that lengthy registration forms be filled out each time the
promoter wants to host a gun show. If the attorney general
intentionally delayed processing registration forms, the promoter
would be, at best, in legal limbo as to whether going forward with
the scheduled gun show is a "crime" or not.
S. 843 would also allow repetitive, no-cause inspections of
promoter records. For BATFE agents in the mood to harass a
particular promoter, this means that a promoter could be inspected
every month, every week or even every day if desired. In practice,
the inspections could cripple the promoter's business, since almost
all promoters are small businesses with few employees. At least one
employee would have to be taken away from business operations every
time the inspectors show up. Frequent inspections--with no
requirement that the inspection be part of a bona fide criminal
investigation--could make it difficult, or even impossible, for the
promoter to conduct normal business.
What about a licensed firearms dealer who never sets foot inside
a gun show, but conducts all his sales from his store? The bill
would hugely increase various prison terms that can be imposed on
licensed dealers for simple paperwork violations. Obviously this
onerous provision has absolutely nothing to do with gun shows.
Rather, it is just an attempt to pass non-related legislation under
the guise of "fixing" gun shows.
No Gun Show Loophole
Back to the so-called "gun-show loophole." In a nutshell, it
just doesn't exist.
Under longstanding federal law, anyone who is "engaged in the
business" of selling firearms must have a federal firearms license.
"Engaged in the business" means repetitive transactions for profit
over a period of time.
If anyone engages in the business of selling firearms without
having the required federal license, that person is already
committing a serious federal felony. This is true regardless of
whether those illegal sales take place from a pawnshop, the back of
a truck or at a gun show.
Of course, people who are not engaged in the business of selling
firearms cannot obtain federal firearms licenses even if they want
to. For example, a person might occasionally sell a gun to a
neighbor, a friend at work or a fellow member of a shooting club,
but because the person is not "engaged in the business" he cannot
obtain a license.
Federal firearms licensees (FFLs) must follow various federal
regulations and paperwork laws. Thus, when the FFL sells a gun, the
buyer must fill out a form specifying his or her name, address and
so on, along with the serial number of the particular gun he or she
is purchasing. The FFL keeps this form (Form 4473) and must make it
available to law enforcement officials conducting bona fide
Another requirement for FFLs is that for every sale, they must
get approval from the National Instant Criminal Background Check
System (NICS). Under NICS, the FFL contacts the FBI (or a state
counterpart) by telephone or by computer. A check is conducted to
make sure that the buyer is not on the list of "prohibited persons"
(such as persons with felony convictions) who are legally
prohibited from owning guns.
Private citizens who sell guns are not required to obey the
business regulations that the federal government has created for
firearm businesses. So if two members of a hunting club swap deer
rifles, they don't have to conduct background checks on each other,
or fill out 4473 forms.
At gun shows, the laws are precisely the same as everywhere
else. The large majority of gun show sales are conducted by FFLs.
At a weekend gun show, the FFLs have access to many more potential
customers than they might see at a small store all week. When the
FFLs sell at a gun show on a Saturday, they conduct the NICS
checks, and collect the 4473 forms. It works just like when they
sell from their storefront on a Wednesday. So there is simply no
"gun show loophole."
Likewise, the rules for private citizens remain the same at a
gun show as anywhere else. Suppose a man who owns seven guns rents
a table one weekend to sell three of his guns to pay for his
family's summer vacation. This casual seller does not need to
conduct a NICS check or collect 4473 forms. (In fact, by federal
law, the FBI would not even allow him to access the NICS
Of course any sale, anywhere, by anyone is subject to the law
against selling a gun to a known criminal, or to a person whom the
seller has good reason to believe will use the gun in a crime.
While federal law does not impose special restrictions on sales
by ordinary, private citizens, some states do. For example,
California almost entirely outlaws private firearm transfers, and
requires that all transfers (even a gift to a friend) be routed
through an FFL.
Colorado and Oregon still allow private transfers in general.
But at gun shows in Colorado or Oregon, the private seller must ask
an FFL at the show to conduct a NICS check on the buyer. In
Colorado, neither the FFL nor the seller are required to fill out
extra paperwork or keep records on the sale once it has been
National Gun Owner Registration
Eliminating all private firearm transfers is a longstanding
objective of the anti-gun lobbies. They want to make sure that
there are written records on every gun owner, and every gun.
Repeatedly, NRA has blocked these efforts, and ensured that there
is no national, centralized database of guns or gun owners.
The Lautenberg bill, however, takes major steps toward national
gun registration. Under the bill, every person who sells a gun just
once at a gun show--or even tries to sell a gun--can be put in a
permanent federal database. S. 843 would mandate that the gun show
promoter keep a record of that person, and would allow the federal
government to collect those records.
So anyone who rented one table, even just one time to pay for
his family's summer vacation, could end up in a permanent federal
Besides capturing the names of the sellers, S. 843 also has a
system for collecting data about the buyers. The bill would
authorize additional regulations for mandatory reporting of all
sales by anyone (including FFLs) at a gun show. This information
could go far beyond the information in the 4473 forms. The extra
information could include how often the seller used the gun, if the
gun was ever used for self-defense, where the seller obtained the
gun, what the buyer planned to do with the gun, how the buyer
planned to store the gun and much more.
The bill says that the names of gun buyers are not supposed to
be reported. But obviously once the centralized national
registration system for guns is in place, Mayor Bloomberg and his
proxies can be expected to start demanding the removal of this
"loophole" about names.
Stopping Gun Sales Nationwide
There's another poison pill in the bill most haven't heard
about--a subterfuge allowing the federal government to halt all
firearm sales throughout the United States. When the national
instant check system was created, Congress specified that if NICS
stopped functioning, then licensed dealers could sell guns without
the need to conduct NICS checks. Without this provision, an
anti-gun administration could just take NICS off-line frequently
(perhaps under the pretext of maintenance) and thereby shut down
gun sales nationally--even on a busy weekend during hunting season
in the fall, when firearm sales peak. The bill would remove this
protection, thereby allowing NICS dysfunction to create a national
ban on firearm sales.
Something like this already happened May 1 in Colorado. The
instant check in Colorado is conducted by the Colorado Bureau of
Investigation (CBI). At about 1 p.m., the CBI announced that it was
too busy conducting other checks for law enforcement, so it refused
to process requests for background checks from a gun show in
progress. As a result, all firearm sales were immediately halted.
Obviously, such a halt on a national level for any length of time
would be devastating to gun sellers and buyers.
According to the gun prohibition lobbies, special new laws
against gun shows are necessary because gun shows are "shopping
bazaars for criminals." For example, Arnie Grossman, head of the
Colorado affiliate of the Brady Campaign, told The Denver Post,
"Most guns used for criminal purposes are purchased at gun
That's not true, according to federal government data and other
sources. The 2001 federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report
"Firearms Use by Offenders" found that only about 1 percent of U.S.
crime guns come from gun shows, and 0.7 percent came from flea
markets. The BJS study was based on personal interviews with 18,000
prison inmates in 1997, and was the largest such study ever
conducted by the federal government.
The 1.7 percent from gun shows and flea markets was tiny
compared to where the vast majority of criminal guns came
from--"friends or family" or "got on the street/illegal
The BJS report was entirely consistent with previous federal
studies. A June 2000 federal study, "Federal Firearms Offenders,
1992-98," found only 1.7 percent of federal prison inmates obtain
their gun from a gun show (plus 1.5 percent from a flea
Similarly, a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) report,
released in December 1997, showed less than 2 percent of criminal
guns come from gun shows ("Homicide in Eight U.S. Cities," p.
All these findings are consistent with a mid-1980s study for the
NIJ, which investigated the gun purchase and use habits of
convicted felons in 12 state prisons. The study (later published as
the book "Armed and Considered Dangerous") found that gun shows
were such a minor source of criminal gun acquisition that they were
not even worth reporting as a separate figure.
At the November 1999 meeting of the American Society of
Criminology, a Michigan State University study of youthful
offenders in Michigan reported that only 3 percent of the youths in
the study acquired their last handgun from a gun show. (Sean
Varano, Tracy O'Connell, Todd Bietzel, Timothy Bynum, "Patterns in
Gun Acquisition and Use by Incarcerated Youthful Offenders in
Professors Mark G. Duggan, Randi Hjalmarsson and Brian Jacob
conducted a gun show study for the National Bureau of Economic
Research: "The Effect of Gun Shows on Gun-Related Deaths: Evidence
from California and Texas" (2008). The authors found no evidence
that holding a gun show contributed to increased homicide or
suicide in the four weeks following a gun show.
Notably, the result was the same for Texas as for California.
California has Bloomberg-style restrictions on gun shows, while
Texas does not. Yet the authors found no indication that
California's law improved public safety.
All of this research, which is easily available to the public
via the Internet, puts the lie to the "shopping bazaar for
criminals" statements made by gun-banners. Yet that doesn't stop
them, or their allies in the "mainstream" media, from continuing to
publish this misinformation.
Pushing The Poison Bill
Already the Lautenberg bill has 16 Senate co-sponsors--almost a
third of the votes necessary to pass the bill. The big-dollar
advertising campaign behind the bill is a sign that gun shows will
continue to be a priority target for the gun prohibition
Back in 1999, I wrote an article, "Gun Shows under Attack," for
The American Guardian--the predecessor magazine of America's 1st
Freedom. Al Gore used that article in television commercials during
his presidential campaign; the commercials showed a picture of the
article, while the voiceover bragged that Gore was "standing up to
the gun lobby."
As it turned out, Gore did himself no favor by informing the
American people that he liked attacking gun shows. If not for
dedicated grassroots NRA volunteers, Gore would likely have won the
election, and after Sept. 11, 2001, President Gore would certainly
have been able to ram severe restrictions on gun shows--and much
A decade later, gun shows are once again a focus of those who
abhor your Second Amendment Right to Keep and Bear Arms. As groups
like the Brady Campaign are losing what little volunteer base they
once had, the center of strength for the gun prohibition movement
is now billionaires like Bloomberg and Soros.
Each of them alone has far more financial resources than the
National Rifle Association. With the cooperation of a compliant
media, they may be the most dangerous threat that the Second
Amendment has ever faced.