Gun Show Laws By State

The "Gun Show Loophole" and State-by-State Regulation

Gun Enthusiasts Gather For The 21st Defense & Sporting Arms Show
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As much a part of American tradition as baseball and apple pie, gun shows provide firearms retailers with an opportunity to broaden their business while giving gun owners opportunities to make purchases at discounted prices.

Gun shows also serve another purpose: They give private gun owners who want to sell or trade firearms access to large numbers of potential buyers and traders. These gun transfers are not regulated by law in most states, a move that is praised by gun rights defenders.

Gun control advocates say the “loophole” allows persons who would not be able to pass a background check to illegally obtain firearms.

The Background of Gun Shows

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has estimated that 5,000 gun shows are held annually in the U.S. These shows attract tens of thousands of attendees and result in the transfer of thousands of firearms.

Between 1968 and 1986, gun dealers were prohibited from selling firearms at gun shows. The Gun Control Act of 1968 barred Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders from making gun show sales by ordering that all sales must take place at the dealer’s place of business. The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 reversed that portion of the Gun Control Act. The BATFE estimates that between 50 and 75 percent of weapons sold at gun shows are sold by licensed dealers. 

The Gun Show Loophole

Private gun owners are not restricted from selling guns at gun shows in 33 states.

 Buyers who purchase guns from individuals are not required to submit to the federal background checks in place for licensed dealers. Critics say that firearms can be obtained illegally as a result, calling it the “gun show loophole.” Proponents of unregulated gun show sales say that there is no loophole – gun owners are simply selling or trading guns at the shows as they would at their residences.

Federal legislation has attempted to put an end to the so-called loophole by requiring that all gun show transactions take place through FFL dealers. Most recently, a 2009 bill attracted several co-sponsors in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, but Congress ultimately failed to take up consideration of the legislation.

Gun Shows by State

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia require background checks for at least some private firearms sales. Seven of these states require background checks for all gun purchases, while four states require background checks for only handgun purchases. Eight of these states – Illinois, Iowa, Hawaii, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Nebraska and North Carolina – prohibit private gun dealers from transactions with individuals without licenses or permits, both of which require background checks. 

Private firearms purchases in Florida are subject to background checks in some jurisdictions but not across the entire state.

There are no laws regulating private firearms sales at gun shows in the remaining 33 states.

The Bloomberg Investigation

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group, stirred controversy and stimulated the gun show debate in 2009 when NYC hired private investigators to target gun shows in Ohio, Nevada, and Tennessee.

According to a report released by Bloomberg’s office, 22 of 33 private sellers sold guns to undercover investigators who informed them that they probably could not pass a background check, while 16 of 17 licensed sellers allowed straw purchases by the undercover investigators. A straw purchase involves an individual who is prohibited from purchasing a firearm recruiting someone else to purchase a gun for him.