Conservative Media And The NRA Tout Deceptive Undercover Video That Says “Gun Show Loophole” Is “Nonexistent”

A video released by conservative commentator Steven Crowder that dishonestly suggested that it is not possible to buy a firearm at a gun show without a background check was touted by the National Rifle Association and conservative media despite its false conclusion.

In 32 states, laws regarding background checks for gun sales have not been expanded beyond federal law, meaning that it is possible to engage in a “private sale” to buy a firearm at a gun show -- or other venues including over the internet and through newspaper classified ads -- without a background check.

Under current federal law, individuals who are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms must obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and run background checks on customers, while so-called “private sellers” who say they only engage in “occasional sales” do not have to run a background check. This discrepancy is what is known as the “gun show loophole” or “private sales loophole.” Recent executive actions announced by President Obama seek to limit the scope of this loophole by clarifying that high-volume commercial gun sellers do need to obtain a license.

On January 28, Glenn Beck's The Blaze released a video of Crowder's “undercover stunt” purporting to determine whether the “gun show loophole” exists. At the end of the video, Crowder concluded that the “gun show loophole” is “nonexistent.”

The video, which was broken into two parts, featured Crowder approaching various firearm vendors at gun shows where he tries and then fails to purchase a firearm without a background check.

In the first section, Crowder unsuccessfully attempted to buy fully automatic machine guns without a background check. But rules surrounding the sale of automatic weapons have nothing to do with the “gun show loophole.” Under the National Firearms Act (NFA), people who wish to own fully automatic weapons must obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that includes undergoing a background check. (People were, however, exploiting a loophole in the NFA that allowed the background check requirement to be avoided by purchasing weapons through a trust. The ATF is currently finalizing a rule to close that loophole.)

The real issue covered by the “gun show loophole” is the purchase of semi-automatic and other firearms from private sellers at gun shows without a background check, an occurrence Crowder purported to debunk in the second part of his video.

In his video, Crowder is seen approaching gun vendors at a gun show in Crown Point, Indiana. Debunking Crowder's premise is reporting that indicates “private sales” without a background check have been allowed at that gun show.

Crowder is seen engaging in bizarre interactions with vendors that result in him not being able to purchase a firearm without a background check. In one interaction, Crowder tells a vendor that he has DUI conviction because he ran over a pregnant woman with his car and that he previously shot someone.

One of two things is occurring when Crowder fails to buy a gun from the vendors he approaches. Either his overtly strange behavior is raising red flags with vendors, or he is simply approaching licensed dealers (not “private sellers”) who are required to perform background checks on customers.

Some of the scenes were not even filmed at a gun show. In at least two scenes, Crowder is seen attempting to buy a gun without a background check from a brick and mortar gun store, and then expressing exasperation when they refuse to complete the sale. At one of the stores, Crowder is seen filling out the paperwork for a background check, but fails to complete it after he draws a penis on the form.

According to actual undercover investigations of gun shows, many private sellers are willing to sell a gun to someone who discloses in a more subtle manner that they probably cannot pass a background check.

Despite the absurdity of Crowder's video, it was widely cited throughout conservative media in order to attack the notion of the “gun show loophole.” The video was also promoted by the National Rifle Association:

Crowder's stunt is not original. In May 2014, Media Research Center released a video attempting to make the same claim. Unlike Crowder's video, MRC's video was not released in an undercover format, but it used the same tactic of approaching licensed dealers to create the misleading impression it is not possible to buy a gun without a background check at a gun show.