Gun Show Laws By State

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 private gun owners opportunities to make purchases at discounted prices.

Gun shows also serve another purpose: They give private individuals 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.

However, gun control advocates say this “gun show loophole” allows persons who would not be able to pass a Brady Act gun buyer background check to illegally obtain firearms.

Gun Show Background

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) 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 now estimates that as many as 75% of weapons sold at gun shows are sold by licensed dealers.

The Gun Show Loophole Issue

The “gun show loophole” refers to the fact that most states do not require background checks for firearms sold or traded at gun shows by private individuals.

Federal law requires background checks on guns sold by federally licensed (FFL) dealers only.

The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 had defined “private sellers” as anyone who sold fewer than four firearms during any 12-month period. However, the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act deleted that restriction and loosely defined private sellers as individuals who do not rely on gun sales as the principal way of obtaining their livelihood.

Proponents of unregulated gun show sales say that there is no gun show 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 Show Laws by State

As of November 2016, 19 states and the District of Columbia have their own gun show background check requirements. Nine states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington) require background checks at the point of sale for all transfers, including purchases from unlicensed sellers.

In Maryland and Pennsylvania, background checks are required for handguns only. Gun show gun buyers in Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are required to obtain a state-issued permit. Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, and North Carolina require state-issued permits for handguns only.

In 32 states, there are currently no laws — federal or state — regulating firearms sales between private individuals at gun shows.

However, even in states where background checks of private sales are not required by law, organizations hosting the gun show may require them as a matter of policy. In addition, private sellers are free to have a third-party federally-licensed gun dealer run background checks even though they may not be required by law.

Attempts to Close the Gun Show Loophole

It is not like gun control advocates in Congress have not tried to close the gun show loophole. Federal "Gun show loophole" bills were introduced in seven consecutive Congresses from 2001 to 2013 — two in 2001, two in 2004, one in 2005, one in 2007, two in 2009, two in 2011, and one in 2013. None of them passed.

In March 2017, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) introduced the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2017 (H.R. 1612) requiring criminal background checks on all firearms transactions occurring at gun shows.

As of June 26, 2017, the bill had been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

The Bloomberg Investigation

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