This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun control advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), began running television ads urging Congress to "close the gun show loophole." Page 34 of MAIG's Blueprint for Federal Action on guns says that the group supports H.R. 2324 and S. 843—bills that would require NICS checks on private sales of firearms at gun shows, and which also contain provisions designed to drive gun shows out of business.
MAIG's ads claim "The Columbine school massacre ... killers got their guns because of a gap in the law, called the 'gun show loophole.'" And in a related press release, MAIG claims "All four guns used in the Columbine shootings were bought from private sellers at gun shows."
The claims are lies, of course. For starters, one of the Columbine criminals' four firearms was not acquired at a gun show. More to the point, however, the other three firearms, while bought at a gun show, were bought for the criminals by a straw purchaser—a woman who was not prohibited from possessing or acquiring firearms, and who therefore would have passed a NICS check, if she had bought the firearms from a licensed dealer.
Furthermore, Bloomberg and MAIG are not telling the whole story about H.R. 2324 and S. 843. Both bills define "vendor" to include any gun show customer who brings a firearm to a show—even for the purpose of selling it to a dealer—or who doesn't bring a firearm, but who mentions to someone at a show that he might be interested in selling a firearm.
And, H.R. 2324 would impose a "vendor" requirement with which no one could comply. The bill would require show operators to notify the Attorney General, in writing, no later than 30 days in advance of the show, of the name of every "vendor." Of course, there is no way that a show promoter can know 30 days (or 30 seconds) in advance who is going to attend a show, or who might bring a firearm to sell, or who might have a conversation with someone about selling a firearm.
Both bills also seek to register gun owners. Because of how the bills define "vendor," a gun show promoter would be forced to have everyone who attends a show sign the ledger. And the bills require that the "vendor" ledgers be available to BATFE inspectors. Many Americans would refuse to sign a ledger just to walk around a show, which would reduce show attendance.
Both bills also would require registration of gun shows. S. 843 would additionally allow the Attorney General to charge an unspecified fee for registering a gun show. The power to set prohibitively expensive fees is the power to destroy, of course.
Both bills would also authorize the BATFE to conduct warrantless inspections of the required "vendor" (customer) ledger and all records of licensed firearm dealers while dealers are at shows to conduct business—a provision clearly designed to discourage dealers from participating in shows.
We've said it many times, but it bears repeating. Gun shows account for a very small percentage of criminals' guns. The largest study of the subject ever conducted by the federal government found that only 0.7 percent of prison inmates who had used guns, had obtained their guns from gun shows. Furthermore, firearm sales have increased over the last several years, the nation's murder rate fell to a 43-year low in 2008, and fell another 10 percent in the first half of 2009, according to the FBI.
And no one should be fooled into thinking that gun control supporters want NICS checks on private firearm sales only at gun shows. In December 2008, the Brady Campaign stated "We agree with the Obama transition agenda that the gun show loophole should be closed, and with Attorney General nominee Eric Holder that background checks should be required for all gun sales. Our national gun policy should be "no background check, no gun, no excuses." (Emphasis in the original.) Their goal is to run all sales through NICS and thereafter change the law so that the FBI would be permitted to retain records of all firearms sales indefinitely. A step in that direction has been introduced in Congress by S. 843 author Sen. Frank Lautenberg. His S. 2820 would allow the FBI to keep records of approved NICS transfers for 180 days.