A Small news site, The Week, posted an interesting article on gun shows written by an award-winning member of the White House press corps, Paul Brandus. The gun show in question takes place in Fairfax county Virginia. Unlicensed firearm dealers make up to 25 to 50 percent of sales at gun shows just like this as estimated by the Association of Firearm and Toolmark Examiners (AFTE). This along with private transactions makes, what is called by gun control advocates, the “Gun-show loophole”. The gun-show loophole allows anyone to purchase a firearm without having to pass a federal background check. Firearm enthusiasts say that the term “loophole” is misleading because private transactions are completely legal and no laws are being broken.
Despite the appearance that no background checks for a firearm sale would be illegal, in the case of a private transaction, it is legal. The Commerce Clause of the US Constitution states that the federal government only has the right to regulate commerce between states and not within the state itself. It is within the state’s own constitutional right to regulate firearm sales within its borders. 33 states within the United States allow private gun owners to sell their firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories without the use of federal background checks.
Paul Brandus, “What I learned at the Gunshow,” The Week, February 25, 2013. http://theweek.com/article/index/240499/what-i-learned-at-the-gun-show
Guns Acquired without Background Checks, FactCheck.org. http://www.factcheck.org/2013/03/guns-acquired-without-background-checks/
Student Researcher: Adam Mullins, Indian River State College
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College
Regulations of firearm sales have been in question for quite some time since the string of recent shootings within the United States. Despite gun laws and control being argued in the mass media by politicians and activists, what about coverage concerning “The gun-show loophole”? Not many sources covered this highly relevant side to the argument. If the problem with controlling guns and the sale of guns lies within the regulations required to purchase them, then “the gun-show loophole” can be an even bigger issue. Private transactions currently allow the ability to buy firearms without the federal background check of a standard firearm sale. Along with private transactions are unlicensed dealers who do not abide by the federal rules of selling firearms.
The ethical issue raised by “The gun-show loophole” is that the federal statutes to control the selling of firearms to those deemed “unsafe” are being violated. The National Firearms Act enacted in 1934 mandated transfers of ownership of firearms through the National Firearms Act (NFA) registry and state crossings to be reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 is supposed to prohibit interstate firearms transfers except among licensed sellers, manufacturers, and importers. Under the GCA, regulation of certain categories of individuals are prohibited from the purchase of firearms. These individuals include felons who were convicted to serve prison sentences longer than one year, those adjudicated as mental defectives, fugitives of justice, non-US citizens, those convicted of domestic violence, addicts to any controlled substance, and those who have restraining orders against them from others. These laws were enacted with the safety of United States citizens in mind.
The gun-show loophole does not abide by these regulations, nor is the safety of the regulations being applied. It can make one wonder about the impact of these laws if guns can be purchased at most, if not all, gun shows without following them. Firearm sales are so high that federal agencies aren’t able to keep accurate up to date records of firearms sold without background checks, but the last estimate was that 40 percent of all gun sales are made from private sellers who are exempt from the requirements. An issue raised by the Commerce Clause that allows private sellers to conduct their sales behind regulations is the ethicality of the sales. Are private sellers the best determinate of who should be buying a firearm? In most cases, they have no idea who the person they are selling to really is.
From the perspective of Immanuel Kant, the well know 18th Century ethical thinker, which holds that humans are not to be treated as a mere means but as respectable individuals, the gun-show loophole could be condemned as it treats people as mere sales in private transactions. The safety and well-being of the buyer and those around him are ignored for pure profit in these transactions. Most gun enthusiasts claim that only a small minority of private transactions hand guns to criminals and that the current laws for licensed firearm sales need to be strengthened before any new ones are even considered. While it is true that Seung-Hui Cho (Virgina Tech shooter), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook shooter) both bought their weapons legally through licensed dealers, who is to say that mentally unstable shooters might not purchase more firearms with less hassle in the future through the gun show loophole? It is, at the moment, another mass murder waiting to happen.
Brandus’ article mentions Omar Samaha, a Virginia man who lost the life of his sister in the Virgina Tech massacre. In 2009, Omar Samaha went on behalf of ABC news with $5,000 and was able to purchase 10 firearms within one hour- without a background check with no questions asked. The point proven is that any person can do the same; had Omar been a criminal, or mentally unstable he still would have been able to acquire several firearms with ease. A large majority of gun massacres have been faulted to errors in licensed seller’s failures in completing all mandatory background checks. Reinforcing the current laws would improve the situation but bring greater attention to the gun-show loophole for those looking to acquire firearms that are prohibited to do so by the GCA. If the safety of the United States citizens is able to be improved by whatever federal regulatory means necessary then it should be considered to say the least.