The “Gun Show Loophole” is a Meaningless Pejorative

Nefarious political tactics often create punch-line pejoratives that ultimately mean nothing. Gun control advocates push the “gun show loophole” as a serious threat to public safety. Although this “loophole” does exist in a limited scope, whether or not it adversely affects public safety is another debate.

The “Gun show loophole” refers to the laws surrounding private transfers and sales of firearms. Gun shows are only brought into the mix because they’re an easy target. If you buy someone a 22 caliber hunting rifle for Christmas, your state-specific law may allow you to give it to them without a background check. This is, by definition, the “gun show loophole”.
Adding “gun show” as a prefix is completely meaningless. I have been to numerous gun shows in multiple different states. Anecdotally, I can tell you that most vendors are already licensed FFL dealers and required by law to use the NICS background check system. Most private sellers offer antique weapons and show pieces – as if a criminal will purchase an old Mauser with murderous intentions.
The development of Internet gun sales sparked an outrage over another “loophole”. Of course, gun control advocates rarely mention existing federal laws as they demand additional restrictions.
Per the ATF, if you purchase or transfer a gun from across state lines, it must be shipped to a licensed FFL dealer who, under federal law, must conduct a NICS transfer request and background check. Yes, this also applies to online classifieds such as Arms List and Gun Broker. To be clear, it already applies to online retailers who hold FFL licenses, such as Impact Guns and Primary Arms.
In other words, this supposedly widespread loophole is restricted only to in-state private transfers. Some states require a background check and some do not. It can also depend on the firearm type. For example, in Pennsylvania, background checks are only required on private transfers of handguns. All in all, eleven states have NICS requirements for private transfers. (Note: “private transfers” refers to non-FFL retail transfers)
Now that we’ve narrowed down the loophole to a realistic explanation, what kind of impact could additional restrictions make? According the Firearm Violence Report by the BJS, only 2% of state inmates who had a gun at the time of offense had acquired that gun from a gun show or flea market.
The BJS report does state that 37.4% received a firearm through a private transfer of “friend or family”. However, this statistical category downplays the underlying cause. If someone is arrested with a firearm and testifies it was given to them by a friend, then that is how statistics count it. The problem is that criminals are not always honest (shocking, I know). Therefore, attempts to protect an illegal dealer or fellow criminal from law enforcement show up as “received from family or friend”.
Nonetheless, with all this in mind, additional restrictions would likely have very little impact. Not only would they come with additional expenses to transferees and taxpayers (background checks are not cost-free), but they also restrict the liberties of law-abiding gun owners and their property. As if criminals ever seek a background check when they transfer illegally acquired weapons.
Political agendas often set out to accomplish their goals by pushing meaningless pejoratives on the unsuspecting public. “Loopholes” have received a lot of attention, but without any inquiry as to their size. The “gun show loophole” is clearly a disingenuous representation of reality. Not only is it extremely narrow, but it has been exploited by very few criminals.
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