2009-10-09 / Top Stories

Gun Show Undercover Investigation Unveils Ease Of Purchasing Weapons

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced the results of a wide-ranging undercover investigation by the City of New York into illegal gun sales. The investigation, which covered seven gun shows in three states, proves on video how easy it is for criminals to buy firearms at gun shows. Thirty-five of 47 gun sellers sold to people who said they probably could not pass a background check or to apparent "straw purchasers."

The undercover investigation sent professional investigators to seven gun shows in Nevada, Ohio, and Tennessee to determine whether sellers would engage in two types of illegal transactions. The first involves private sellers selling guns to people who they thought could not pass a federal background check. The second involves licensed dealers conducting illegal straw sales, which are sales made to accomplices posing as buyers in order to help the real buyer avoid a criminal background check.

"The gun show loophole is a deadly serious problem - and this undercover operation exposes just how pervasive and serious it is," said Mayor Bloomberg. "We are sending a copy of our detailed report Gun Show Undercover to every member of the United States Congress. We'll work with Congressional leaders to pass legislation closing the gun show loophole. This is an issue that has nothing to do with the Second Amendment; it's about keeping guns from criminals, plain and simple."

Even though private unlicensed sellers are not required to run background checks using the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check system, it is a federal felony for them to sell guns to people they have reason to believe are prohibited purchasers (such as felons or the mentally ill). In purchases attempted on 30 private sellers, the undercover investigator showed interest in buying a gun by asking about stopping power or by dryfiring the weapon. After agreeing on a price, the undercover would indicate that he probably couldn't pass a background check. At that point, the seller is required by law to refuse the sale - but only 11 out of 30 sellers did so. Investigators found private dealers who failed these integrity tests at every show, including two sellers who failed at multiple shows. In total, 19 of the 30 private sellers approached failed the integrity test.

The 11 sellers who terminated the sale confirmed that private sellers know the law. As one seller in Columbus, Ohio, explained "I mean even as a private citizen, I'm kind of allowed a certain latitude, but once you say that [you can't pass the background check], I'm kind of obligated not to …. I think that's what the rules are."

The investigation also revealed that some private sellers are in fact apparently "engaged in the business" of selling firearms without a federal license, in violation of the law. For example, one seller sold to investigators at three different gun shows and acknowledged selling 348 assault rifles in less than one year.

Undercover investigators also approached licensed dealers at gun shows and simulated straw purchases. A straw sale, a violation of federal law, occurs when a dealer allows someone who is not the actual buyer of the gun to fill out the paperwork and undergo the background check.

Each integrity test of licensed dealers involved two investigators. The first was a male investigator who played the role of a person who wants to purchase a handgun but does not fill out any of the required paperwork. The other investigator, a female, served as the "straw" and appeared to be buying the handgun on behalf of the male.

This scenario is typical of the straw purchases identified by ATF in its training program, which is designed to teach licensed dealers how to spot straw purchases.

All but one (16 of 17, or 94 percent) licensed dealer approached by City investigators failed the integrity test by selling to apparent straw purchasers. Only a dealer at a gun show in Niles, Ohio ended the sale after the straw attempted to fill out the paperwork.

Through the licensed and private seller scenarios, investigators purchased 38 guns in total, 36 semi-automatic handguns and 2 assault rifles. Solutions Offered by "Gun Show Undercover" Steps can be taken to prevent criminals from buying guns at gun shows while still protecting the rights of lawabiding citizens to freely own them. The recommendations in the Gun Show Undercover report are:

Close the gun show loophole. Federal law should require background checks and records for all sales by private sellers at gun shows. Nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that require checks on at least all handguns sold at gun shows. H.R.2324 and S.843, introduced by Representative Mike Castle

R-DE) and Senator Frank Lautenberg

D-NJ), are currently before the Congress and would close the loophole. Increase enforcement of existing laws. To prevent guns from gun shows flowing into the hands of criminals, ATF should be given more resources to increase its enforcement at gun shows by conducting integrity tests of licensed dealers and private sellers, investigating those engaged in the business of selling guns without a license, and actively identifying whether recovered crime guns were purchased at gun shows. What is the Gun Show Loophole? Gun shows, typically organized by gun owners' associations or professional promoters, are marketplaces where new and used guns, accessories, and historical curios are offered for sale.

The majority of gun shows are family friendly events attended by lawabiding citizens who legally buy and sell guns and other merchandise. Unfortunately, because gun shows are home to the secondary market of unregulated gun sales by private sellers, gun shows have been found to be major sources of guns used in crimes. According to ATF, 30 percent of guns involved in federal illegal gun trafficking investigations are connected in some way to gun shows. Because no records are kept, guns sold by private sellers at gun shows become virtually untraceable.

Under federal law, all federally licensed gun dealers - including all gun stores and anyone who sells guns professionally - must conduct background checks on all prospective firearms purchasers. However, the law does not apply to private dealers who make what the law calls "occasional sales" from their "personal collection." This gap in the law is called the gun show loophole because gun shows form a central marketplace for prohibited purchasers to connect with private sellers who make anonymous gun sales with no checks.

A team of 40 private investigators supervised by the firm Kroll, a global leader in business intelligence and investigations, worked for four months to capture video of gun shows. Licensed as private investigators in 17 different states, the investigative team has more than 460 years of combined law enforcement experience, including retired federal agents and local police officers.

Return to top


Email Us
Contact Us

Copyright 1999 - 2014 Wave Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved

Neighborhoods | History