NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

NCPA Brief Analysis: There's No Loophole at Gunshows (and Few Criminals)

February 23, 2001

Some gun control activists claim that 70 percent of the guns used in crimes come from shows, and Handgun Control, Inc. asserts that "25-50 percent of the vendors at most gun shows are unlicensed dealers." Both these assertions are wrong, as numerous studies have shown.

  • A mid-1980s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study of convicted felons in 12 state prisons found that criminals purchased firearms at gun shows so rarely that those purchases were not worth reporting as a separate category.
  • Criminals did not shift to gun shows after the 1994 Brady Law mandated background checks for all gun purchases from licensed dealers; according to an NIJ study released in December 1997, only 2 percent of criminal guns came from gun shows.
  • A study of youthful offenders in Michigan, presented at a meeting of the American Society of Criminology, found that only 3 percent had acquired their last handgun at a gun show -- and many of the purchases were made by "straw purchasers" -- i.e., legal gun buyers illegally acting as surrogates for criminals, which background checks would not identify.
  • And a 1997 report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics on federal firearms offenders said only 1.7 percent of crime guns are acquired at gun shows.

In fact, a report issued by the educational arm of Handgun Control found that only two of 48 major city police chiefs said that gun show sales were an important problem in their city.

And for the claim that a quarter to half of the vendors at most gun shows are unlicensed dealers: this is true only if one counts vendors selling items other than guns -- such as books, clothing, ammunition, knives, holsters and other accessories -- as unlicensed dealers.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett (senior policy analyst), "The Gun Show 'Loophole:' More Gun Control Disguised as Crime Control," Brief Analysis No. 349, February 23, 2001, National Center for Policy Analysis.

For text


Browse more articles on Government Issues