10 Myths About Guns in America

From gun show background checks to semi-automatic firearms—there is a lot of misinformation out there.

This week, President Barack Obama announced executive actions related to guns. Here are ten common myths about firearms.

Myth No. 1: Firearm purchases at gun shows do not require a background check due to the “gun show loophole.”

Facts: When the president and others refer to the “gun show loophole,” they imply that there are no background checks being done at gun shows. As a result, much of the public has been misinformed and are led to believe that individuals who purchase firearms at gun shows are not subject to a background check.

In reality, there is no “gun show loophole.” If an individual wants to purchase a firearm from a licensed firearms retailer, which typically makes up the majority of vendors at gun shows, the individual must fill out the requisite federal firearms paperwork and undergo a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) background check.

The only firearms that are being purchased at gun shows without a background check are those being bought and sold between individuals, peer-to-peer, as opposed to buying a firearm from a gun dealer. These private sales are no different from selling a personal hunting rifle to the owner’s niece or nephew down the road. It is a private sale and no background paperwork is required. The gun is private property and the sale is made like a sale of the family’s good silver. The one difference is that the locus of a gun show is being used to make the private sale.

Under current law, an individual is permitted to occasionally sell part, or all, of their personal firearms collection. These private sellers, however, cannot be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. “Engaged in the business” means they can’t repeatedly sell firearms with the principal objective of earning funds to support themselves. Some of the individuals who wish to sell a portion, or all, of their personal firearms collection do so at the show and might display their wares on a table. These “private table sales,” however, are private, peer-to-peer, sales and, therefore, do not require a background check. The president cannot change criminal statutes governing requirements for which sellers must conduct background checks. His new actions don’t do so and don’t claim to do so.

In a peer-to-peer, private firearms transaction, it is already illegal to sell a firearm to another individual if the seller “knows or has reasonable cause to believe” that the buyer meets any of the prohibited categories for possession of a firearm (felon, fugitive, illegal alien, etc).

 

Myth No. 2: Gun shows lack any law enforcement presence and are a free-for-all for felons and other prohibited individuals to obtain firearms.

Fact: Local, state, and federal law enforcement are often present both in uniform and/or covertly in plain clothes to monitor and intervene in suspected unlawful firearms sales such as straw purchasing, purchases made by prohibited individuals, including non-residents, and the attempted sale of any illegal firearms.

 

Myth No. 3: Individuals who purchase firearms on the Internet are not subject to background checks.

Facts: An individual cannot purchase a firearm directly from a firearms retailer over the Internet and have that firearm shipped to them directly. An individual can pay for the firearm over the Internet at websites and online sporting goods retailers. The firearm, however, must be picked up from a federal firearms licensee, such as a gun store. In many cases, this is the brick-and-mortar store associated with the website where the gun purchase was made. Once at the retail store, the Internet purchaser must then fill out the requisite forms, including ATF Form 4473, which initiates the NICS background check process. Thus, an Internet purchase of a firearm from a firearms retailer require a background check.

Individuals, from the same state, are able to advertise and purchase firearms from one another and use the Internet to facilitate the transaction. It is unlawful, under current law, to sell or transfer a firearm to an individual who is out-of-state. Any Internet sale, even between individuals, that crosses state lines would have to utilize a federal firearms licensee, such as a gun store, and the purchaser would be required to fill out the requisite state and federal paperwork and would undergo a background check.

 

Myth No. 4: The president’s Jan. 5 executive action on gun control represents landmark change regarding gun control.

Facts: With few exceptions, Obama’s executive action on firearms is nothing more than rhetoric regarding the status quo. Many senators have long argued for better and more robust enforcement of existing laws that prohibit criminals from owning guns.

It is the current law of the land that anyone engaged in the business of selling firearms must have a federal firearms license. The president’s action does not change current law, but merely restates existing court rulings on the meaning of “engaged in the business.”

 

Myth No. 5: The Obama administration has made firearms enforcement a priority.

Facts: The Obama administration has used its limited criminal enforcement resources to focus on clemency for convicted and imprisoned felons, the investigation of police departments, and on civil rights cases. The latter two categories represent important work, but the Department of Justice lost track of one of its core missions of enforcing criminal law: prosecuting violent criminals, including gun criminals.

The Obama administration is only now making firearms enforcement a priority. Clearly, enforcing the gun laws is a new initiative, or one of the president’s actions would not have been informing all of the ninety-three U.S. attorneys about it.

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