A solution to the “gun show loophole” that does not exist?

Jazz Shaw over at Hot Air just put a nice piece together about the so-called gun show loophole, which is not a gun show loophole, but rather a private sale loophole. The issue here is the federal government and the ATF publish no regulations as to when one must become a federal firearms “dealer.”

Some information…. (Remember, state laws are different. As an example, Connecticut residents can do a straight person to person sale of a pistol, but the buyer must have a permit or eligibility certificate, and the seller contacts the State Police to get an authorization number for the sale.)

  • When you go to a gun show and buy a firearm, in most cases you are buying from a dealer, and a federal background check is required.
  • There are sellers at gun shows who are not dealers, but rather owners of private firearms who are buying, selling or trading guns they may own. That’s the so-called “gun show loophole” but as I will note below, the same thing can happen in your driveway so it has nothing to do with gun shows.
  • The “40 percent of firearm purchases don’t go through background check” reports you have heard are made up. The Brady Campaign has came up with that figure out of thin air. It’s a swinging wild-eyed guess. If you live in Connecticut and sell your shotgun to a friend at the club, there is no background check required and those private sales happen every day, thousands of times a day around the US. How the hell is the Brady Campaign supposed to know how many private sales there are?

So if the person at the gun show has a small booth or is walking around offering his personal Glock 17 and SIG Sauer P229R for sale, he may sell them to a dealer at the show, or he may sell them to a private individual visiting the show. He might sell it in the parking lot. In many states, there are no background checks for private sales and there is no mechanism in place for the private seller to complete a background check on a buyer. As an example, someone may sell their pistol or rifle to a cousin, uncle, father, daughter, grandfather, best friend or co-worker outside of a show and it would be a private sale without the background check requirement. As Shaw said, it’s a private sale loophole, not a gun show loophole.

Most people would think it absurd for someone who sells one or two guns to have a federal firearms dealer license, simply because they are not a dealer of firearms. What if you were a gun enthusiast with a large private collection and bought, sold and traded 100 guns a year. Do you think that person is a dealer? So on to our question.

At what point does the federal government consider you to be a dealer who must be licensed?

Answer: Nobody knows.

That’s right, the federal government has not defined the point at which you must obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Go ahead, check the ATF website. Nothing there. Their process is “we’ll know it when we see it.” They will tell you how to apply and how much it costs, but there is nothing in the regulations that defines the point where you “cross the bridge” from private seller to dealer. They do make it clear gunsmiths who work on firearms and hold them for more than one business day must have an FFL, but nothing else.

Is this really a problem? I’m not sure. Is there some sort of underground sales network of private sellers that move guns all around the country to make it difficult or impossible to trace their lineage? I have not heard of one, but that does not mean it does not exist. One thing is clear to me, if you want to sell something that is your personal property, do you really want the government getting involved? Could you imagine the government getting involved with and regulating the private sale of automobiles, boats or RVs for the “good of the public?” (Think climate change…)

I think it would be appropriate to discuss if it is possible to clearly define the point where private gun owners who buy, sell and trade personal firearms become “dealers” who require an FFL. That said, new regulations specific to this topic would not have stopped any of the mass shootings during the last 30 years, so let’s keep that in mind. What do you think?

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Steve McGough

Steve's a part-time conservative blogger. Steve grew up in Connecticut and has lived in Washington, D.C. and the Bahamas. He resides in Connecticut, where he’s comfortable six months of the year.


  1. JBS on January 13, 2013 at 9:23 am

    The government — the liberal Utopian bun-grabbers, have long wanted to regulate ALL gun sales, transfers, etc. The bureaucracy would be mammoth! And, intrusive. Regulation on that scale would make confiscation much easier.
    An idea floated some time ago was to require all firearms owners to have a kind of 03 FFL. An 03? is for collectors of Curios and Relics. In reality, a federal owner’s license. Again, the bureaucracy would be staggering. (Big government Democrats love that part!) And, again, confiscation would be much facilitated through the record keeping.
    No matter what ?bama and the delusional liberals argue, confiscation is the euphoric dream of the gun-banners. Any enlargement of a federal scheme will restrict rights and entail records and data-bases. The banners will be further along the road to easy confiscation.
    For those who don’t know or have forgotten history, when a certain bunch of Germans marched into surrendered or conquered lands, it was a simple matter to get the lists of firearms owners and demand that those people…

    • JBS on January 13, 2013 at 9:24 am

      ?. . . turn in those guns. Disarmament was a key component of their occupation.
      Questions: what is a registered gun? Where is it registered?

  2. kateinmaine on January 13, 2013 at 11:14 am

    may not be on topic, but i found it interesting data to keep in the hip pocket…
    Firearms Commerce in the United States 2011 – Bureau of Alcohol

  3. sammy22 on January 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I shudder to think that guns are sold ” privately” to anyone? who wants to purchase one. Does the seller know/check/care about who the buyer is?

    • Dimsdale on January 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      I would propose that the sales between law abiding citizens is not your problem; sales between criminals, which will never be subject to any check other than “do you have the cash?”.
      The only people that abide by the laws are not the ones you should care about, but are the only ones that the laws will affect.

    • Steve McGough on January 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm

      Did you not realize this is common practice? Where would you draw the line? Can a father “gift” or sell his hunting rifle to his son, or do you think they should go to the government for approval? If you wanted to sell a firearm to your brother, do you want to get the federal government involved? If you wanted to trade one firearm for another owned by a friend, do you want the federal government involved?


      I know it’s hard for some people (liberals) to comprehend, but most people don’t need some sort of federal government?bureaucrat?to monitor our behavior and remind us of our civic responsibility. We’re rational, responsible people thank you very much and we know we’re not supposed to sell a gun to a prohibited person.?


      By the way, for pistols in Connecticut, the seller must contact the State Police and fill out a form to keep and police verify the buyers permit.


      If you would prefer to live in a police state where freedom to do these types of completely normal transactions between law-abiding citizens is?forbidden, you have options. I choose to live in a FREE state, where I can practice being a well-adjusted, law-abiding member of the community.

  4. sammy22 on January 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    If law abiding citizens sell guns to the likes of William Spengler (a felon) there is a problem.

    • Steve McGough on January 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      Are you kidding? The person you described as a “law abiding” citizen admitted to illegally purchasing the guns in a straw purchase for Spengler and giving him the guns! By no measure at all is that woman a law-abiding citizen.

    • Dimsdale on January 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      Details, details…..

  5. ricbee on January 14, 2013 at 12:35 am

    So I can sell one of my guns to my friend or neighbor to keep in their home for protection?

    • Steve McGough on January 14, 2013 at 7:42 am

      @ricbee – Laws vary by state, so check with a lawyer on the subject. In Connecticut I could sell a shotgun to my neighbor as a private sale without involvement of the state. Of course, if I did not know my neighbor at all, I would not do this. The same is not correct for pistols. That the state would be involved and the?neighbor?would need to have a Connecticut permit or eligibility certificate.

  6. SeeingRed on January 14, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Incrementalism is a tool of the deseased Left.

  7. kateinmaine on January 14, 2013 at 10:10 am

    guns have been bought/sold/bartered/traded/gifted/lifted for hundreds of years without much intervention beyond that sage measure individually assessed to all commerce–caveat emptor.? why, i’ve purchased weapons at yard sales.? if the gov’t can’t effectively apply the laws already on the books, what is the point of more??

    • Dimsdale on January 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      Eventually, they reach a point where they decide to apply them, and at that point, it is draconian.

  8. sammy22 on January 14, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Steve, I never doubted that you are “practice being a well-adjusted, law-abiding member of the community”. So am I. Unfortunately, as in the example I pointed out, that person was presumably a “law abiding citizen”, until the weapons were purchased and given to Spengler. And that is the rub.

    • Steve McGough on January 14, 2013 at 6:00 pm

      I’m not sure what the point is. People are good and turn bad, what legislation or law will stop that from happening? None. A previously good citizen can easily make meth and hand it out to children. A previously good citizen could rape someone. A previously good citizen could drive drunk and kill a family of five. If you’re freaked out about that, you can go try living in a police state and see how that works out for you.

  9. wildcat on January 16, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Just thought I’d share the following quote:
    ” Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having these arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?”?? Patrick Henry, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2nd ed Philadelphia, 1836.


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