The So-Called “Gun Show Loophole”

Now that the mainstream media’s favorite pastime is to cover firearms-related mass murder events, giving the impression to most ill-informed people that such incidents are on the rise despite the fact that this assertion is untrue, a common demagogic response from prominent Democrats is to propose federal legislation to close the so-called “gun show loophole.”

First and foremost, this supposed loophole is not specific to gun shows. In fact, most vendors that attend gun shows are firearms dealers (i.e., businesses), which are required by federal law to obtain and maintain a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and conduct background checks via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) before transferring any firearm to a purchaser. Additionally, purchasing firearms from dealers online is also subject to background checks, notwithstanding highly misleading studies by ill-informed researchers, as all sellers must transfer said firearms to a local FFL in order to complete interstate transactions (including the NICS check) on behalf of the final individual purchaser. While an individual private seller does not have to complete a NICS check to sell to a private buyer, though knowingly selling to a prohibited person is illegal already, this is only applicable if the sale takes place in person (which is typically not what occurs with online sales) between residents of the same state. Transferring firearms through the mail (or other carrier) and transferring firearms to persons in different states additionally require an FFL intermediary (which de facto requires a NICS check to complete the transfer).

In plain language, what is really being targeted by the “gun show loophole” allegations are in-person, private sales between two individuals residing in the same state. The implication here, of course, is that significant portions (if not most) firearms used in crimes, including mass murder, are obtained illegally by persons disallowed to own them via direct person-to-person private sales (at guns shows or otherwise). But this implication is simply not true. Private firearms sales typically account for basic neighborly, intra-family, and peer-to-peer transactions and have had exactly zero relevance to any of the recent mass murder events that politicians like to cite when discussing this “loophole.” Indeed, background checks generally offer no appreciable impact on violent crime prevention at all. The Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice points out that a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives study determined that “the secondary market is the primary source of crime guns” (emphasis in original). This secondary market overwhelmingly includes straw purchases, theft, and retail diversion, all of which are already illegal and demonstrate that background checks are generally ineffective to begin with. Adding another layer to the infringing bureaucracy will not likely make much of a difference on violent crime.

But the real rub is not the theoretical need for so-called “universal” background checks, but rather the inherent way in which it must be implemented to (not) achieve any real results. Universal background checks are effectively unenforceable without a national (federal) registration requirement and system. And this is the golden nugget for gun control advocates – at least those with a likely agenda – as, coincidentally (or not), mass gun confiscation cannot realistically occur either without a list of where all the guns are at. This absence of universal registration has been among the biggest and most effective bulwarks against confiscation in America and eliminating this obstacle is paramount to any meaningful attempt at disarming the American populace. I believe this is the real objective behind such policies and their being pushed so determinedly. Ask yourself, why else would politicians continue to cite this specific regulatory change after each media-covered event, when none these events involved shooters who obtained their firearms via the supposed “gun show loophole” in the first place?

The Sandy Hook shooter stole his firearms from a family member. The Charleston church shooter underwent the NICS check and was erroneously approved. This latest shooter in Oregon reportedly purchased his weapons legally, background checks and all. Yet the cries for expanded background checks, complete with unmentioned inherent requirements for said registration, followed each and every one of these cases. This is not happenstance, and although I have no doubt the average American is ignorant regarding the minutia of the laws and details involved, the power brokers of the State certainly are not. The “gun show loophole” is a red herring if ever there was.

To be clear, my problem is not with the theory of background checks. After all, who would not want to keep dangerous objects out of the hands of bad people? (This is why I am in favor of expanding background checks to own keyboards, to paraphrase David Gerrold). While we are thinking idealistically and unrealistically, I would also like to waive a magic wand and eliminate all violence in the world, so as to render all weapons unnecessary and irrelevant. But no, my problem is with the very demonstrable and observable inefficacy that background checks present, coupled with knowledge of what the true agenda really is. We cannot un-ring a bell, nor can we ignore real motives once they have been reasonably discerned.

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