Gun Show Undercover: Report on Illegal Sales at Gun Shows

Oct 1, 2009
Every weekend, thousands of Americans in all parts of the country attend local gun shows. Organized by gun-owners associations or professional promoters, the shows offer a chance to browse among dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of vendors. For many Americans, gun shows are a family outing. For the gun enthusiast, there are a huge variety of guns -- new and used long guns and handguns, historical curios or related accessories -- and for the general shopper there are often other vendors selling clothing, books, or local crafts. The vast majority of vendors and customers at gun shows are law abiding citizens out to enjoy a day with others who share a common interest. Unfortunately, gun shows are also considered a significant source 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. In response to these concerns, the City of New York launched an undercover investigation of illegal sales at seven gun shows across three states. The investigation shows it is both feasible and easy for criminals to illegally buy guns at gun shows. With no records of private sales at gun shows, it is almost impossible to know the exact extent of criminal activity that occurs there.11 In fact, there are no de?nitive answers to many basic questions one might ask about gun shows: the number of gun shows in America; how many guns are sold at gun shows; or how many private sellers operate at gun shows. The very aspects of gun shows that make them attractive to criminals -- the lack of background checks and recordkeeping -- also make it impossible to gather comprehensive information about undocumented sales that occur at those shows. To shed light on the practices of firearms sellers at gun shows, the City of New York launched an undercover investigation of illegal sales. The investigation covered seven gun shows spread across three states: Nevada, Ohio, and Tennessee. Working undercover, agents conducted "integrity tests" of 47 sellers -- both licensed dealers and private sellers -- by simulating illegal gun sales at gun shows.
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