What Is the 'Gun Show Loophole'?

By Andrew Lu on January 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The so-called "gun show loophole" is at the center of a renewed debate about gun control. For those unfamiliar with firearms, you may be scratching your head and wondering what the gun show loophole actually is.

As you may know, federal laws and some state laws are in place to require criminal background checks and detailed record-keeping relating to the purchase of firearms.

However, what you may not be aware of is that these laws typically apply only to licensed firearms dealers. So depending on where you live, secondary sales and gun sales between private parties, such as at gun shows, are often not covered by any law, reports The Huffington Post.

So any person with a criminal record or history of mental health illness could potentially show up at a gun show and purchase whatever gun he pleases. This is what's known as the "gun show loophole."

Some estimates suggest nearly 40 percent of gun transactions in the country occur through private party sales such as at gun shows, reports HuffPo. And more than three-fourths of U.S. states have no laws requiring background checks or documentation for private-party sales.

According to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, only six states -- California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island -- require universal background checks for all firearm sales, including at gun shows. Three more states -- Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania -- require background checks on all handgun sales made at gun shows. As for the other states? Most of them have taken no action.

So a criminal who wants to purchase a gun can, in theory, simply travel to a state with no regulations regarding gun sales at gun shows and presumably obtain a gun for whatever purpose he has in mind.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and other recent mass shootings, there is obvious pressure to close the gun show loophole. After all, closing off point-of-sale transactions to potential criminals, but leaving open the vast private market, seems to neutralize the purpose of requiring background checks in the first place.

The loophole is likely on the agenda as Vice President Joe Biden's gun task force considers proposals to make gun laws tougher. Biden's group is set to meet with representatives from the National Rifle Association and Walmart, the nation's No. 1 gun seller, this week, Reuters reports.

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