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AZ gun show dealers exposed – no background checks

Gunshow Undercover revealed today that investigators who went to a Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Phoenix on January 23rd did not have to pass any checks to purchase the same weapon used by Jared Loughner.

Two weeks after the tragic shootings in Tucson, undercover investigators went to a gun show in Phoenix, Arizona and purchased guns – no background check, no questions asked. […] An undercover investigator purchased two 9 millimeter pistols from two different sellers, even after the investigator told the sellers that “I probably couldn’t pass a background check.”

During the sale you see the seller say “No Tax”, “These are a bunch of private people…”; he asks the buyer to only show ID to “make sure you’re not from California”.

The site says their 2009 tests found 63% (19 of 30) of private gun dealers also required no background check to complete a sale.

Three issues here seem notable:

1) The site points to a legal loopholes that allows persons who sell weapons as a private citizen, instead of as a dealer, to avoid performing a background check. Presumably this loophole is meant to help private-citizens profit from weapon sales as well as avoid regulation of private-party commerce. However, private-citizens are regulated in other forms of commerce; high-risk items often are prohibited. The justification of the loophole therefore seems tenuous.

2) The site indicates that buyers who inform a seller that they probably couldn’t pass a background check are still sold a weapon. This shows that even laws in place are violated — private sellers are prohibited from selling to someone they have a “reason to believe” would not pass a background check. This begs the question of why sellers flaunt the law. Does room for discretion leave the door open to abuse or negligence, or is it because enforcement is too weak? They warn buyers not to show them a California ID, so some forms of enforcement obviously work.

Arizona only gets 2 out of 100 on a scale of gun trafficking laws according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. California gets 79 out of 100.

Arizona gets 0 out of 10 on a scale of laws that curb illegal trafficking according to Trace the Guns. California gets 8 out of 10.

3) There is no current known internal enforcement mechanism at these gun shows. A show reserves the right to ask a seller to leave, but it is unclear whether they have ever done so and whether they would do any compliance tests on their own accord. A lack of transparent self-regulation increases the need for external assessments like that performed by Gunshow Undercover.

Posted in Security.

4 Responses

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  1. Patrick says

    I think you are confused about what a “private dealer” is. Someone who sells firearms for a living (Such as at your local gun store, or at gun shows) has to have a Federal Firearms License. This costs a few hundred dollars and takes several months for the background checks and so on. However, if I am just a citizen who makes occasional gun sales have a gun I want to sell, I can sell it to anyone (as long as it is not interstate sale, I think) just like any other type of personal property- just as I can sell my car through the newspaper-without having to check if the buyer has a drivers license etc. So there really is no “loophole”- just private citizens selling personal property. Additionally less than 1 or 2% of firearms used in a crime are bought through private sales- instead criminals just get a friend of family member to buy it for them (A “straw purchase” which is also illegal). So even if you think having the government meddling in private sales of anything is a good idea (personally, I’m not sure I like that whole part), you would at most only prevent 1 or 2% of illegal gun sales.

  2. Davi Ottenheimer says

    An ATF study in 2000 called “Following the Gun: Enforcing Federal Law Against Firearms Traffickers” says 27% of illegally trafficked guns are from private sellers and 30% are from gun shows (25,862 out of 84,128 total trafficked firearms in prosecutions). There is obviously overlap if private sellers are at gun shows.

    A 2010 study called “Trace the Guns” by Mayors Against Illegal Guns says 12,000 murders a year in the US are attributed to illegal gun trafficking.

    These 16 states and the District of Columbia have an average export rate of 7.5 crime guns per 100,000 inhabitants. In comparison, the 34 states that do not require background checks for all handgun sales at gun shows have an average export rate of 19.8 crime guns per 100,000 inhabitants, a rate more than two and a half times greater than the rate of states that do.

    What is your source for saying only 1 or 2% are from private sales?

    I sympathize with the idea that private individuals should be able to conduct commerce, but that does not seem to be a reasonable interpretation of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. The right is for lawful possession and use of a firearm, not commerce.

    Many other items are prohibited from being sold by private parties due to concern about safety and risk. So I would say you are incorrect to imply that “just like any other type of personal property” there are no regulations. Here is a good list and some explanations:

    I agree a straw purchase problem exists also. I wrote about that here:

    A recent crack-down in Arizona gives more detail, like a man who said he was buying fifty-three AK-47s in a few months time for himself:

    …according to the indictments, defendant Joshua Moore bought six AK-47 and similar rifles from a gun store in Prescott in 2009. Three days later, he bought two AK-47s from a gun store in Glendale. Seven days later, he bought 10 from the same store. Two days later, he bought five more there. Less than a month later, he bought 20 from the same store. Three months later, he bought 10 more from the Glendale gun store.

    The purchases themselves are legal; nothing in the law prohibits citizens who pass background checks from buying long guns, such as AK-47s, or handguns. But authorities say Moore lied on federal firearms applications by declaring that he was buying the guns for himself when he was really supplying them to cartel front men.


    Local and federal authorities must be notified when two or more handguns are purchased within a week. But there is no reporting requirement for purchase of multiple long guns.

  3. Heimdallen says

    I know this is quite old to be replying to, but this did come up as a top 5 hit when I googled “avoid background checks at gun shows”, so I imagine it’s getting views, perhaps I can re-spark a dialogue.

    I think the problem with the statistics associated with trying to quantify how many guns used in violent crimes or by criminals were originally bought at a gun show from a private seller (thus avoiding the background checks that would have prevented the sale), and not from a dealer, is that just due to the nature of the situation, it’s very hard to get an accurate number for comparative purposes. One study might reveal the number to be 1% or 2%, while another might show 25% or even 50%. Due to the lack of record keeping associated with private sales, it’s difficult to trace these guns purchase and ownership history.

    So disregarding the statistics, no matter how many or how few the number of sales are, the raw fact is that convicted felons and other people with no business owning guns (as far as the law is concerned, personal opinions aside) are able to legally purchase firearms. I believe while the letter of the law states that any and all private sellers are not required to submit potential buyers to a background check, the spirit of the law is literally targeting an individual selling a few firearms from their collection, not someone who travels around to gun shows selling firearms for a living or even as a side job without declaring it to the state. The law never meant to allow what are, for all intents and purposes, small dealers running the business out of their truck or home to be immune to the requirement of background checks for customers. It’s referred to as a loophole not because Joe Blow sold 4 guns last year without running background checks on the people that bought them, it’s referred to as a loophole because people are intentionally taking advantage of the letter of the law, either by having another job account for 51% or more of their income, or outright lying about their position as a seller of firearms. They can sell thousands of guns a year at shows without declaring themselves a dealer, thus exempting them from the background checks law. It all comes down to the definition and interpretation of the word “dealer”.

    I feel like a lot of people take offense to having to pass a background check to purchase a firearm, like they resent it in some way. It’s just like a store clerk asking to see a photo ID when the signature on the back of your credit card has worn off – some people seem to huff about it, when all the clerk is doing is protecting YOU by making sure you are indeed the owner of the card. The only people who should be upset about something like that are the people who have stolen a credit card, the legitimate owner should appreciate the clerk taking the time to try and prevent fraud for you, potentially saving you a lot of problems. It’s the same with the gun background checks – they exist to protect us law abiding citizens. The only people who will fail a background check are people who are not legally allowed to own a firearm.

    Will background checks prevent criminals from obtaining guns? Hell no. But it seems like making it this easy to buy one is sort of counter productive. I mean, what’s the point of having the law if we’re not going to enforce it at all? Don’t we WANT to try and prevent criminals from purchasing guns to kill our families with? If the law is on the books, and it is (convicted felons, domestic abusers, and juveniles are prohibited from purchasing or owning guns), then why not enforce it?

    It seems like the easiest solution to the problem of allowing prohibited persons to purchase firearms at gun shows, while at the same time protecting legitimately private, non-dealer, sellers from the minor inconvenience of running background checks, would be (in my mind at least) to more accurately define “dealer” as it pertains to the Gun Control Act of 1968. Prevent the people who are intentionally taking advantage of the law’s loose parameters from doing so by refining the conditions of labeling a dealer vs. a non-dealer.

    While I understand the argument that anyone can sell any of their property at will without checking the legal status of their potential buyers, nothing else we sell exists for the sole purpose of killing. While other things may be used as deadly weapons, such as a car or a baseball bat or butchers knife, those things have a function other than killing. OK, yes, swords and hunting knives and spears and cross bows are weapons as well, made for killing, they aren’t as long distance and easily concealable and as efficient as guns are. Only a select few people with the proper skills and training could kill as many people as the man did at the Batman premier with a weapon other than a gun. So back on point, a firearm is the only thing we sell as private property that has the lethal ability and purpose a firearm does. It’s unique. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to treat it as such, uniquely, by simply prohibiting people from engaging in gun dealer behavior at gun shows without being subject to gun dealer laws at said shows. Regardless if 1 or 1 million firearms are sold in this way to a prohibited person. It’s not infringing on anyone’s right to sell their guns, and it’s not infringing on anyone’s rights to buy a gun, either. If you’re allowed to own one by law, then you could still purchase one. Or 10. Forcing people to abide by the law’s that already exist by requiring people selling guns in any way OTHER than just getting rid of some of the weapons you own, NOT selling guns that you purchased or obtained with the expressed purpose of reselling them for a profit, to subject buyers to background checks is not going to hurt anyone or trample on anyone’s rights as they currently exist, but only serve to help prevent prohibited persons from obtaining firearms, to make it just a little more difficult for them than walking into a gun show and buying an armload.

    In this sense, it IS a loophole, and many states have recognized it as such and have taken steps to prevent it. Six states have made it mandatory for all sellers, licensed dealers or not, to run background checks on all potential purchasers at gun shows. And another 11 states either require background checks on everyone for all handgun sales or require all purchasers to consent to a background check in order to obtain a permit allowing purchase of a handgun prior to a sale. So that means in six states you can’t buy any kind of gun at a show if you’re a prohibited gun owner, and in another 11 you can’t LEGALLY buy a handgun anywhere – gun show, online, in someone’s kitchen, in a parking lot, wherever – without submitting to a background check at some point during or prior to the sale. And by all accounts, gun sales at shows and otherwise do not seem to have been affected at all by the passage of these laws which are simply laws enforcing the laws that are already on the books, anyway. Prohibited purchasers being prevented from purchasing guns is not creating new legislation, it’s only enforcing what already exists. And that’s the big point.

    As pointed out earlier, this is a loophole because people intentionally take advantage of the law as it’s written, avoiding classifying themselves as dealers to avoid having to get a Federal Firearms License, which would force them to abide by background check laws to prevent prohibited persons from purchasing guns. If prohibited persons avoiding background checks was just a natural product of individual citizens selling a few of their personal firearms off at some point, it would be just that, a chink or gap in the law which a few people managed to fall through some times. But willful abuse of the law resulting in multiple people selling multiple guns at multiple gun shows, and purposefully for profit, causes this to be an issue and labeled correctly as a loophole. And that’s the situation as it is today. And no matter what your take is on the second amendment, people that are prohibited from owning guns are not legally allowed to buy them, end of story.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something speculative that’s probably highly controversial before I close, and likely to infuriate some people, but I honestly think it’s true to some degree, I just hope it’s limited to very few gun sellers. I think that some of the people screaming that this isn’t a loophole, and that forcing sellers to run background checks on people prior to gun sales at shows is unethical and unfair and violates the laws as written, actually intentionally WANT to continue to be allowed to be ignorant of their buyer’s status, they want to be able to look the other way and legally sell guns to illegal owners purposefully. And the reasons they want to do this range from simply wanting the largest market possible, allowing the most potential buyers, to wanting to sell to criminals in the hopes that they will indeed commit a crime with the firearm, which will continue to provide the bogeyman they need to fuel gun sales. If people keep committing crimes with firearms, people will still keep stockpiling their own firearms to keep themselves and their families safe, to combat the bad guys with guns, and perpetuate that whole negative circle of arming and counter-arming. There, I said it. And there’s bound to be unscrupulous people who have just that intent, I’m sorry but there is.

    Basically, no matter how big an impact closing the loophole would have on arming criminals, or even young people who aren’t old enough to own a gun yet for safety reasons, it’s only going to help stop prohibited people from getting their hands on guns. And how is that a bad thing? Doesn’t ever sane American want to prevent gun crimes from occurring? In the end, it’s all to help protect legitimate gun owners, and doesn’t trample on their rights in any way. It doesn’t even trample on seller’s rights to sell guns, it would just make them aware of the legal status of their potential buyers, and prevent them from making an illegal sale which might result in that very gun being used against them one day! It’s sort of ridiculous to have a situation where an illegal sale can be made legally, simply because sellers don’t want or have to know if their customer has a past which the law says prevents them from owning a firearm. Patching the hole here would serve to protect everyone and harm no one. And I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Will the gun haters answer/explain this question? I doubt it... - Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Third Parties, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Congress, President - Page 10 - City-Data Forum linked to this post on December 17, 2012

    […] other problems… Obviously your Google must be broken, I was referring to things like this. AZ gun show dealers exposed – no background checks Maybe you should look into things like this before pretending like it doesn't […]

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