NRA News Downplays Loophole That Helps Arm Criminals

NRA News host Cam Edwards made a number of misleading statements during the August 29 edition of Cam & Company while discussing a call by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) to require a background check for nearly every gun sale in the U.S. Specifically Edwards' claim that MAIG's proposal would cause “an end to private sales of firearms” is blatantly false.

In fact, states with a universal background check law, which aims to prevent gun sales to felons and other prohibited purchasers, allow private individuals to sell firearms, so long as the purchaser undergoes a background check. For example, in California a private seller must conduct his or her sale though a licensed dealer who runs a check on the purchaser.

Twelve states -- Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- have passed laws creating additional requirements for private sellers, including running background checks, without outlawing the practice of private sales. Meanwhile states that allow sales without a background check create a market for widespread criminal activity.

From Cam & Company:

CAM EDWARDS: The advocates who have launched a media campaign in concert with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's group Mayors Against Illegal Guns met with [Attorney General Eric] Holder to push for, quote, “better background checks on the sales of guns, particularly those sold privately and at gun shows.”

So in other words they are not calling for, as Politico says, better background checks. They are calling for an end to private sales of firearms. As you know, the gun laws in this country are the same for private citizens at gun shows or at their home. The laws in the country are the same for federally licensed firearms retailers whether they are at their brick-and-mortar store or whether they are manning a table at a gun show. The laws don't change based on the location.

Edwards' fixation on the location of where the gun is sold is a red herring. Federal law distinguishes between sellers who possess a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and those who do not. An individual possessing a FFL, which means that he or she is “engaged in the business of selling firearms,” must conduct a background check on his or her customers; individuals who identify as not “engaged in the business of selling firearms” do not.

Between a vague definition about what it means to be “engaged in the business” and weak enforcement of existing laws, it isn't hard to see how this loophole in federal law is easily exploited. The unregulated market -- principally firearms sold at gun shows, through newspaper classifieds, and over the Internet - represents an estimated 40 percent of total gun sales.

Gun shows have been proven to be a particularly problematic venue for the sale of firearms without a background check. A 2009 undercover investigation by the City of New York found that 19 of 30 private sellers approached at a gun show were willing to sell to an individual who stated that he could probably not pass a background check.

Gun shows are also a hotbed for the illicit trade of firearms. Between 2004 and 2006 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted over 200 anti-trafficking operations at gun shows resulting in 121 arrests and the confiscation of 5,345 firearms.

According to a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office, the ATF has identified private sellers at gun shows as a source of guns trafficked to Mexican drug cartels.

In addition to these firearms that are successfully traced back to a retail dealer, some ATF officials told us, based on information from their operations and investigations, many seized guns also come from private sales at gun shows, though it is impossible to know this exact number due to the lack of records kept for such purchases. 

In June 2011 Adam Gadahn, a spokesperson for Al Qaeda, urged terrorists to use the gun shows as a way to obtain weaponry without undergoing a background check.

America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?

According to a 2001 New York Times article, the loophole has also been exploited by extremists associated with terrorist groups Hezbollah and the Irish Republican Army.

On Sept. 10, for example, a jury in Detroit convicted Ali Boumelhem, a member of the terrorist group Hezbollah, on charges of conspiring to smuggle guns and ammunition to Lebanon. The F.B.I. had observed Mr. Boumelhem buying weapons at gun shows in Michigan.

Last year, a man accused of being a member of the Irish Republican Army, Conor Claxton, testified in federal court in Fort Lauderdale that he had gone to South Florida to buy guns at gun shows to smuggle to Northern Ireland.