Gun Show Loophole?

I do not intend for this piece to be a pathway into a debate on gun control or any of the applicable laws pertaining firearms sales. I am simply attempting to clarify the actual legal framework involved in a firearms sale. This piece is in response to a political commercial currently running on several of the cable news channels.

The commercial shows snippets of a terrorist asserting that people can simply walk into a gun show and buy fully automatic weapons without any sort of background check. The commercial is sponsored by a group of mayors, and it urges people to contact their congressmen concerning closing the so called gun show loophole.

The simple truth is that those claims are absolutely and totally false. Licensed firearms dealers must follow the exact same rules for selling a firearm at a gun show as they must follow when selling a firearm from their place of business. This is required by federal law, and such sales are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives more commonly known as the ATF. Additionally, state laws regulating the sale of firearms must be followed at a gun show just as they are at a retail firearms shop.

Furthermore, fully automatic and select-fire firearms are Class III items, and as such, they are even more stringently regulated by the federal government and other applicable state laws. In order to purchase a Class III item, a person must be approved by the ATF prior to buying the item, and each item purchased requires specific approval. Part of that approval process includes either the signature of the chief law enforcement officer of the locality where the purchaser resides or the establishment of a legal trust. The process is very time consuming, and each item also incurs an additional $200.00 federal tax. The purchase process of a Class III item is measured in months and not minutes.  Private parties may not sell Class III items directly to another party. The transaction must go through a dealer approved by the federal government to handle Class III items.

The notion that someone can walk into a gun show and simply buy a fully automatic weapon is ludicrous to the point that the person espousing such is either ignorant on the law and is merely parroting remarks made by others, or the person is knowingly and intentionally perpetuating a lie.

Sales between private parties at gun shows are governed by the same state laws and applicable federal laws that apply to a private party transaction elsewhere in the respective state.

The gun show loophole does not exist.

Again, this piece was not intended as a pathway to a debate on gun control. Its intent is to provide accurate information.  This piece is not an argument in favor of or against control measures.


  1. I had always heard of the “gun show loophole” and thanks to this blog post and a little more research on the internet, I understand it much better now. I am still bothered that there is no background check with private sellers, whether at a gun show or in their home. I just think this is one small way that we can keep guns out of the hands of those individuals who are known to be dangerous or irresponsible with a deadly weapon. Good blog, Chief Weems. Thanks!

    1. Judy, would you be okay with the government checking your or your neighbor’s background in order for you to sell your car to a neighbor? That would be a private sale of a deadly weapon, too. You have no way of knowing if that neighbor is capable of driving, if they have had dozens of speeding tickets or reckless driving tickets. You don’t even know if they have committed vehicular manslaughter in their past. Private sales of legal merchandise between private individuals should be kept free. Every time we give up a freedom in this country to make someone “feel” safer, we are making ourselves slaves. And “feeling” safe and “being” safe are two totally different things.

  2. Here is the gun show loop hole. A private party carries a gun into the show and sells it to another private person who is also attending the show.
    This is no different than if I sold my gun to my neighbor.
    GA law requires no background check or paperwork when one person sells a gun to another person.

    California has a law which makes every person who owns a handgun register it with the state. If I want to sell a gun to my neighbor I have to take it to a dealer, the neighbor must have a background check, and the dealer has to hold then gun while all this is being done. It costs more and the only people who bother complying with this law are law abiding citizens.
    All the thousands of armed thugs arent going to register their guns arent going to go to a gun show where dozens of cops and ATF agents lurk.
    A law is only as effective as those who choose to follow it. Career criminals could care less about words on a page.
    More government control over what two private law abiding citizens is not the answer to what career criminal street thugs are doing.

    Hell, in Athens, the DA’s standard plea deal to a FELON WITH A FIREARM charge is 3 to 5 on probation, a small fine, and ,maybe some community service.
    In many GA counties you will go right to state prison for the same offense.

    How can you expect to curb firearm crime when the DA recommends and the Judge is giving probation to career criminal felons who are found to be armed by police.

    If we as a society spent half the time we spending passing laws and creating more govt to control the 99% who arent criminals and spent more time on the 1% career criminals we would be a lot better off. Liberals cant stand this line of thinking.

    1. Jim,

      A loophole would be an exception to normal federal and/or state law because the transaction takes place at a gun show. The scenarios that you give would be applicable whether those transactions took place across the backyard fence or at a gun show booth.

      What certain media outlets and politicians portray is that gun shows are free-for-alls at which the standard law isn’t applicable, and this is simply incorrect.

  3. Excellent article Chief Weems. One correction: The statement, “Private parties may not sell Class III items directly to another party” is not true. If the private parties reside in the same state the transfer does not have to go through a dealer. Of course the same paperwork (a “form 4”) still has to be completed and approved by the ATF prior to the transaction.

    1. Matthew,

      You can’t sell Class III directly to another party. As you write, you have to go through a dealer and/or the BATFE. That’s not what I would call direct. It requires at least one “middle man” to get the process done legally as compared to selling a non-Class III item. My intent was to distinguish this for the less gun-versed reader.

  4. Chief, thanks for telling the truth! We have got to stand up to the “one sided media” and political opportunists.

  5. If you want to stop gun crime, shoot the gun-toting criminal! The problem with most anti-gun people is they want the cops and laws to do everything. Our country was free and kept free by armed citizens. The law should be that citizens keep a firearm and train with it just as they do in Switzerland and Israel. The criminals get away with their crimes because no one wants to get involved to stop them and demand the government step in a and protect them. Laws don’t stop criminals and before 1968 you could order a weapon through the mail without any paperwork. If you want to put criminals in their place, arm yourself!

  6. Chief,
    Thank you very much for the intelligent light you have cast on the issue of purchasing a Class III weapon. However, the question remains why anyone would want to have such a weapon. I am a gun owner and a gun enthusiast and cannot understand the fascination with fully automatic weapons. My main concern is that it would take us down a slippery slope that would end in more legislation regarding gun ownership and eventually result in prohibiting private possession of fire arms or ammunition. That it would become so cumbersome that it would make private ownership impossible.

    1. Paul, why should someone that wants a muscle car capable of speeds up to 150 mph, where there are no speed limits allowing for such speed? Those cars are deadly. So?

      Or maybe they are not.

      The shooters of fully automatic weapons in civilian settings are hobbyists. Do you know how many times a class III gun has been used in a crime? Look it up.

      It’s a non issue used falsely by the gun prohibitionists in their march to take all guns, even .22 single shot target rifles. Look at the Aussie example. Total failure. They got no more than 5-7% of the actual guns and it cost millions more than the projected costs by the campaign.

      Here the feds would be lucky to get 1%. This is not a nation of people who would let themselves be disarmed.

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