Political Correction

NRA Opposes Background Check Requirements, Al Qaeda Plans A Shopping Trip

June 07, 2011 11:43 am ET - by Chris Brown

Last Wednesday, the Delaware Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Democratic Gov. Jack Markell's proposed legislation to require all gun sellers at gun shows to perform a background check before selling a gun.

Republican State Sen. David Lawson called the proposal "a piece of legislation looking for a problem."

Just days later, Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn encouraged terrorists to use American gun shows to bypass background checks as they plot Mumbai-style attacks. From Gadahn's statement:

America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?

Buyers at gun shows can purchase guns from private sellers without undergoing background checks under federal law. Further, people on terrorist watch lists are not forbidden from purchasing guns. Over 200 people with suspected terrorist ties have purchased guns in the United States in the last year alone. A proposal by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) to allow the attorney general to block gun sales to individuals on terror watch lists through an amendment to the Patriot Act was voted down last month. Several states have passed legislation to address gun show sales that bypass background checks, but 33 states have no restrictions that would prevent terrorists from bypassing background checks at gun shows.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) responded to Markell's proposal with their usual slew of misinformation and conspiratorial accusations.

In the context of non-terrorist criminal activity, the cause for concern about gun shows is well documented. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has identified gun shows as a major trafficking channel. According to the ATF report, Following the Gun: Enforcing Federal Firearms Traffickers:

Gun shows were a major trafficking channel, involving the second highest number of trafficked guns per investigation (more than 130), and associated with approximately 26,000 illegally diverted firearms. The investigations involved both licensed and unlicensed sellers at gun shows.

An investigation by the City of New York showed that even buyers who identified themselves as people that "probably couldn't pass a background check" could purchase guns at gun shows. The most notorious example of gun-show-related crime came after it was revealed that several of the weapons used in the Columbine school shooting came from gun shows. Robyn Anderson, who bought the guns for the Columbine shooters, later stated that she would not have purchased the guns if she had to give her name for a criminal background check.

The NRA further argued that, despite the ability to bypass background checks, gun shows are bad places for criminals to seek firearms. From the Associated Press:

[NRA lobbyist] Jennison rejected the notion that, instead of buying guns illegally on the street, criminals are going to pay admission to gun shows that are typically attended by ATF agents and police officers and pay retail price for a weapon.

ATF agents need to have a specific reason to attend a gun show and are highly limited in their ability to monitor the private gun sales that don't require background checks. Reached for comment from Political Correction, former assistant director for field operations for the ATF Michael Bouchard said:

In most cases, ATF has no jurisdiction to intervene in a private sale of a firearm between two individuals unless they have specific knowledge that the buyer is a prohibited person.

Efforts to crack down on illegal guns have shown that it's possible to drastically increase the cost a criminal will pay to get a gun. Bouchard elaborated on the cost of a trafficked gun:

Unless a gun is stolen, the price for a new firearm on the street is higher than one purchased directly from a gun show or gun store because the original buyer seeks payment for the risk they are assuming. In other words, they have to make a profit for their work.

The NRA's opposition also featured their typically conspiratorial tones, suggesting that, "If enacted into law, Senate Bill 39 would ban all private sales at Delaware's two gun shows" and that, "The true intent of this legislation is to move towards an ultimate ban on all private sales." The legislation in question doesn't ban private sales; it simply requires background checks for private sales at gun shows.

Polls have shown that requiring background checks at gun shows is broadly popular.

Note: As discussed earlier today at Media Matters, "fully automatic" guns are heavily regulated. However, conversion kits that can transform semi automatic guns to fully automatic weapons are available at gun shows.

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