Gun shows in the United States
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A gun show is a temporary exhibition or gathering in the United States where firearms, firearm accessories, ammunition, literature, knives, militaria, and miscellaneous collectibles are displayed, bought, sold, traded, and discussed. Gun shows also often include exhibitions related to hunting and the preparation and preservation of wild game for consumption. They also may be used by gun manufacturers to demonstrate new firearm models—or by gun enthusiasts to exhibit antique or unusual guns. Gun shows also serve as common and recurring meeting places for enthusiasts to discuss gun culture topics such as the right to keep and bear arms.
Venues and attendance
Gun shows are typically held in public buildings, including hotels, malls, armories, stadiums, etc., and are open to the public with a nominal fee charged for admittance. They are almost always two-day events held on weekends by promoters who lease the space and allow dealers or private sellers to rent tables to display their wares and/or advertise services they provide.
In 2005, Michael Bouchard, Assistant Director/Field Operations of ATF, estimated that 5,000 gun shows take place each year in the United States. Most gun shows have 2,500 to 15,000 attendees over a two-day period. The number of tables at a gun show varies from as few as fifty to as many as 2,000. At the largest gun shows, over 1,000 firearms are sold over two days.
Under the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), firearm dealers with a Federal Firearms License (FFL) were prohibited from doing business at gun shows (they were only permitted to do business at the address listed on their license). That changed with the enactment of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA), which allows FFLs to transfer firearms at gun shows provided they follow the provisions of the GCA and other pertinent federal regulations. The ATF reports that between 50% and 75% of the vendors at gun shows possess a Federal Firearms License.
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After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, gun shows became controversial in the United States. Those concerned about these events believe that American gun shows are a primary source of illegally trafficked firearms, both within the United States and abroad. Those supporting gun shows believe their Second Amendment rights are being jeopardized.
Research and studies
In 2000, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) published "Following the Gun," its analysis of more than 1,530 trafficking investigations over a two-and-a-half-year period and found gun shows to have the second highest number of trafficked guns per investigation, after corrupt FFL dealers. (Straw purchasers were the most common channel, but averaged a relatively small number of trafficked guns per investigation compared to corrupt FFLs and gun shows.):x-xi These investigations involved a total of 84,128 firearms that had been diverted from legal to illegal commerce. All told, the report identified more than 26,000 firearms that had been illegally trafficked through gun shows in 212 separate investigations. The report stated that:
- "A prior review of ATF gun show investigations shows that prohibited persons, such as convicted felons and juveniles, do personally buy firearms at gun shows and gun shows are sources of firearms that are trafficked to such prohibited persons. The gun show review found that firearms were diverted at and through gun shows by straw purchasers, unregulated private sellers, and licensed dealers. Felons were associated with selling or purchasing firearms in 46 percent of the gun show investigations. Firearms that were illegally diverted at or through gun shows were recovered in subsequent crimes, including homicide and robbery, in more than a third of the gun show investigations.":17
In contrast, a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report on “Firearms Use by Offenders” found that only 0.8% of prison inmates reported acquiring firearms used in their crimes "At a gun show," with repeat offenders less likely than first-time offenders to report acquiring firearms from a retail source, gun show or flea market. This 2001 study examined data from a 1997 Department of Justice survey of more than 18,000 federal and state prison inmates in 1,409 State prisons and 127 Federal prisons. The remaining 99.2% of inmates reported obtaining firearms from other sources, including "From a friend/family member" (36.8%), "Off the street/from a drug dealer" (20.9%), "From a fence/black market source" (9.6%), "From a pawnshop," "From a flea market," "From the victim," or "In a burglary." 9% of inmates replied "Don't Know/Other" to the question of where they acquired a firearm and 4.4% refused to answer. The Department of Justice did not attempt to verify the firearms reported in the survey or trace them to determine their chain of possession from original retail sale to the time they were transferred to the inmates surveyed (in cases where inmates were not the original retail purchaser).
Garen Wintemute, a professor of emergency room medicine and director of UC Davis’ Violence Prevention Research Program, released a study in 2007 which held that gun shows are a venue for illegal activity, including straw purchases and unlicensed sales to prohibited individuals. In contrast, in 2008, professors Mark Duggan and Randi Hjalmarsson at the University of Maryland and Brian Jacob from the University of Michigan released a paper which stated that gun shows do not lead to substantial increases in either gun homicides or gun suicides.
ATF criminal investigations at gun shows
From 2004 to 2006, ATF conducted surveillance and undercover investigations at 195 gun shows (approximately 2% of all shows). Specific targeting of suspected individuals (77%) resulted in 121 individual arrests and 5,345 firearms seizures. Seventy nine of the 121 ATF operation plans were known suspects previously under investigation.
Additionally, ATF Field Offices report that:
- Between 2002 and 2005, more than 400 guns legally purchased at gun shows from licensed dealers in the city of Richmond, Virginia, were later recovered in connection with criminal activity. Bouchard said, "These figures do not take into account firearms that may have been sold at Richmond area gun shows by unlicensed sellers, as these transactions are more difficult to track." It is noteworthy that the "in connection with criminal activity" category includes stolen guns later recovered from burglaries, but the report does not specify how many guns in the 400 gun figure cited were not guns used in the commission of a crime, but that were rather the fruits of criminal activity.
- The Department of Justice reports, "after reviewing hundreds of trace reports associated with guns used in crime recovered in the New Orleans area and interviewing known gang members and other criminals, ATF Special Agents identified area gun shows as a source used by local gang members and other criminals to obtain guns."
- In 2003 and 2004, the San Francisco ATF Field Division conducted six general operations at Reno, Nevada, gun shows to investigate interstate firearms trafficking. During these operations, "agents purchased firearms and identified violations related to "off paper" sales, sales to out-of-state residents, and dealing in firearms without a license." The "ATF seized or purchased 400 firearms before making arrests and executing search warrants, which resulted in the seizure of an additional 600 firearms and the recovery of explosives."
- ATF's Columbus Field Division conducted its anti-trafficking operations based on intelligence from Cleveland police that "many of the guns recovered in high-crime areas of the city had been purchased at local gun shows." Subsequent gun show sting operations resulted in the seizure of "5 guns, one indictment, and two pending indictments for felony possession of a firearm." The state of Ohio is one of the top ten source states for recovered guns used in crime.
- The ATF's Phoenix Field Division reported that "many gun shows attracted large numbers of gang members from Mexico and California. They often bought large quantities of assault weapons and smuggled them into Mexico or transported them to California." Garen Wintemute, a professor at the University of California at Davis, calls Arizona and Texas a "gunrunner's paradise."
Regarding the trafficking of firearms from the U.S. into Mexico, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in June 2009 that stated:
- "While it is impossible to know how many firearms are illegally smuggled into Mexico in a given year, about 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced in the last 5 years originated in the United States, according to data from Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). According to U.S. and Mexican government officials, these firearms have been increasingly more powerful and lethal in recent years. Many of these firearms come from gun shops and gun shows in Southwest border states."
The GAO report has been corroborated through other sources. William Newell, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division, testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in March 2009, stating, “Drug traffickers are able to obtain firearms and ammunition more easily in the U.S., including sources in the secondary market such as gun shows and flea markets. Depending on State law, the private sale of firearms at those venues often does not require record keeping or background checks prior to the sale.”  The ATF has also reported that, “Trends indicate the firearms illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are becoming more powerful. ATF has analyzed firearms seizures in Mexico from FY 2005-07 and identified the following weapons most commonly used by drug traffickers: 9mm pistols; .38 Super pistols; 5.7mm pistols; .45-caliber pistols; AR-15 type rifles; and AK-47 type rifles.”  However, this is based only on the weapons sent to the ATF to be traced, a small portion of all firearms seized by the Mexican government, and the extent to which they are representative of all seized firearms is disputed. According to Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, "Mexico's southern border with Guatemala has long been an entry point for such weapons and today could account for 10 to 15 percent coming through." William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott have described Mexico as a "virtual arms bazaar," where one can purchase a wide variety of military weapons from international sources: "fragmentation grenades from South Korea, AK-47s from China, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers from Spain, Israel and former Soviet bloc manufacturers." In addition, they say that Mexican drug cartels have long-established drug- and gun-running ties with Latin American revolutionary movements such as Colombia's FARC. Further, China has supplied military arms to Latin America and Chinese-made assault weapons have been recovered in Mexico, according to Amnesty International. Finally, the Mexican army has seen rampant desertion rates (150,000 in the last six years) and many soldiers have taken their weapons home with them, including Belgian-made M16s.
Additionally, skeptics have said that it would be difficult for the Mexican drug cartels to acquire fully automatic firearms at American gun shows (as opposed to the semiautomatic-only versions of these firearms that are legal on the U.S. civilian market). To purchase or transfer a fully automatic firearm legally, U.S. citizens must pay a $200 transfer tax, submit a full set of fingerprints on FBI Form FD-258, obtain certification provided by a chief law enforcement officer ("CLEO": the local chief of police, sheriff of the county, head of the State police, or State or local district attorney or prosecutor), and obtain final approval from the BATF on a Form 4 transfer of NFA registration to the new owner. In addition, only fully automatic firearms manufactured before the Firearm Owner's Protection Act of 1986 are permitted to be transferred. No fully automatic firearms (machine guns) recovered in Mexico have been traced to the United States.
- Burbick, Joan (2006). Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy. New Press. ISBN 978-1-59558-087-0.
- "The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Investigative Operations at Gun Shows". justice.gov. U.S. Department of Justice. June 2007. I-2007-007.
- "Oversight of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Part 2: Gun Show Enforcement" (PDF). Hearings before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, 109th Congress, 2d Session, February 28, 2006.
- "Gun Shows: Brady Checks and Crime Gun Traces" (PDF). Washington, DC: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
- "The debate on gun policies in U.S. and midwest newspapers". Berkley Media Studies Group. 2000-01-01.
- "COLORADO AFTER COLUMBINE THE GUN DEBATE.". The Free Library by Farlex. 06-01-2000. Check date values in:
- "No Questions Asked: Background Checks, Gun Shows, and Crime". The Americans for Gun Safety Foundation. 04-01-2001. Check date values in:
- "Following the Gun". Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). June 2000. Archived from the original on 2003-03-31.
- "Firearms Trafficking: U.S. Efforts to Combat Arms Trafficking to Mexico Face Planning and Coordination Challenges". gao.gov. United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). June 2009. GAO-09-709. Retrieved June 24, 2014.
- DeConde, Alexander (2003). "School Shootings and Gun Shows". Gun Violence in America: The Struggle for Control. Northeastern University. p. 277. ISBN 1-55553-592-5. OCLC 249850830.
The most bitter opponents of checks and licensing, the NRA and other gun clubs, sounded an alarm heard across the country. It immediately brought a massive response as well as a rise in their membership rolls. As a recruiter explained, the antigun sentiment frightened gun owners who believed their Second Amendment rights were in jeopardy.
- "Gun Shows in America: Tupperware® Parties for Criminals". vpc.org. Violence Policy Center. July 1996.
Amend the definition of 'engaged in the business' to close the loophole that allows sales from a personal collection in supposed 'pursuit of a hobby.'
- Caroline Wolf Harlow, Firearm Use by Offenders (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Nov. 6, 2001)
- "US Department of Justice, Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, Firearm Use By Offenders" (PDF). DoJ.
- Wintemute, Garen J. (2007). "Gun shows across a multistate American gun market: observational evidence of the effects of regulatory policies". Injury Prevention 13 (3): 150–155. doi:10.1136/ip.2007.016212.
- "The Effect of Gun Shows on Gun-Related Deaths: Evidence from California and Texas". Mark Duggan, Randi Hjalmarsson, and Brian A. Jacob. September 2008.
- "U.S. Guns Behind Cartel Killings in Mexico". Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post. October 29, 2007. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- "Statement of William Newell, Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division of the ATF, Before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies". U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
- "ATF Fact Sheet: Project Gunrunner". U.S. Embassy in Mexico.
- William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott (April 2, 2009). "The Myth of 90 Percent: Only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From U.S.". FOXNews.com.
- "(M15) What are the required transfer procedures for an individual who is not qualified as a manufacturer, importer, or dealer of NFA firearms?". Firearms frequently asked questions. Retrieved 2008-04-24.[dead link]
- "(M18) What law enforcement officials’ certifications on an application to transfer or make an NFA weapon are acceptable to ATF?". Firearms frequently asked questions. Retrieved 2008-04-24.[dead link]
- La Jeunesse, William; Maxim Lott (2009-04-02). "The Myth of 90 Percent: Only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From U.S.". Fox News. Retrieved 2011-05-24.