Busting the Internet Gun Sale and Gun Show Loophole Myths

Speaking at Benedict College in March of 2015, Barack Obama claimed that it was easier to buy a handgun and clips than it was to buy fresh groceries. Even the gun control-friendly Washington Post recognized that this was wild hyperbole with no statistical basis. The myth of so-called gun-buying loopholes has been greatly exaggerated by politicians who sell fear of firearms to push their gun-grabbing agenda. The fact is that if you’re buying guns through legitimate channels, it’s not that easy to avoid background check regulations. Here’s a look at how gun sales really work and why the so-called gun-show loophole is a myth.

Buying Firearms Over the Internet from Gun Owners

Let’s say you want to buy a Browning firearm online from one of the nation’s estimated 130,000 federal firearms license holders. Federal regulations require that you go through a background check. If you pass the check, and if your order is in compliance with the regulations applicable in your state of residence, a retailer will ship your purchase to the location closest to you for pickup. This goes for any online order from a federal firearms license holder. There’s no loophole in this process.

Buying Firearms Over the Internet from Out-of-state Dealers

Now what if you want to buy a gun online from an out-of-state seller who is not a federal firearms license holder? The same restrictions apply. The Gun Control Act of 1968, provides for strict regulation of any direct mail sale of firearms across state lines. The seller must ship the gun to a federally-licensed gun dealer. The buyer must then submit to a background check by the dealer before they can pick up their order. Once again, there is no loophole in the process. The same procedures that regulate online sales from federal firearms license holders apply here as well.

Buying In-person After Seeing Online Ads

Another possibility is to see an online ad and then arrange to pick up the gun in person from a seller in the same state. This would be a private sale that would fall outside the jurisdiction of federal background check requirements, though some individual states still have background check laws. Some gun control advocates say this type of private sale is the biggest loophole in existing gun laws.

But it’s not as easy as gun control proponents make it sound. Popular classified ad sites such as Craigslist and eBay don’t allow firearm or ammunition listings to be posted. And many states already have laws requiring background checks on in-state firearm sales.

Furthermore, experts admit that regulations on in-state gun sales are notoriously hard to enforce. If a private party wants to sell a gun to someone without doing a background check, it’s hard for authorities to stop them. Such regulations are mainly useful for prosecutions after a sale has already been made, but they have minimal preventive effect.

Ineffective Proposals and Hidden Agendas

Obama claimed that 40 percent of gun purchases were made without a background check. But it turns out that 29 percent of these cases involved guns being exchanged between family members or friends and acquaintances. Only 3 percent of these purchases were made through the mail, while 4 percent were made at gun shows. And mail order gun sales as well as sales at gun shows are already subject to federal laws requiring background checks.

So it is questionable whether the gun control measures some politicians want would even have a practical effect on gun sales if passed. This premeditated ineffectualness makes one suspect that the true purpose for wanting more background checks on gun owners has more to do with keeping the political opposition under control than keeping guns under control.