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Private sellers at Louisiana’s gun shows do not check backgrounds

19th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Dozens of big gun shows are held yearly in Louisiana, including greater New Orleans, with one at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner last weekend. Full-fledged dealers at these events must be licensed by the nation’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. But under what politicians and others refer to as the “gun show loophole,” customers in Louisiana and many other states can buy firearms from unlicensed sellers and collectors at shows without federal background checks.

Most people at shows buy from licensed dealers, who have to check backgrounds. And show promoters believe that few guns sold at these events by unlicensed vendors, without checks, end up in the hands of criminals or terrorists. But critics say it’s too easy to get guns at shows.

“The vast majority of firearm dealers at our shows are licensed and do the required background checks,” Shawn Bean at Great Southern Gun & Knife Shows, LLC said last week. Thousands of paying customers were expected at the mid-month Kenner show that his group organized. “Background checks usually take a few minutes, and to do them, vendors can call in or go online to the NICS,” he said.

Guns for sale at a show in Louisiana

Guns for sale at a show in Louisiana

The Federal Bureau of Investigation runs the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for licensed dealers. Licensed firearms dealers, manufacturers and importers are required to contact the NICS before selling a gun to an unlicensed individual.

“Licensed dealers contacting the NICS about customers are told to proceed, deny or delay,” Kevin Moran, ATF spokesman in New Orleans, said last week. If the NICS says to proceed, a dealer at a show can sell a firearm right away, as long as the transaction complies with state laws.

A Congressional bill to require background checks on all gun transactions at shows, introduced a year ago by New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat, says that about 5,200 traditional gun shows are held annually across the United States, attracting thousands of attendees at each, along with hundreds of federal firearms licensees and unlicensed sellers. “Gun shows at which firearms are exhibited or offered for sale or exchange provide a convenient and centralized commercial location where criminals and other prohibited persons obtain them, without background checks and without records that enable firearm tracing,” the bill says. In late March of last year, Maloney’s bill was referred to the House subcommittee on crime and terrorism.

But Shawn Bean takes a different view. “Roughly 99.99 percent of guns purchased at shows are never used by a criminal to commit a crime,” he estimated. “And even if one were used, it is usually one that was stolen from a legal owner.” This year, Bean’s group will organize six shows in Kenner, four in Jackson, Mississippi, two in Hattiesburg and six in Birmingham, Alabama.

Nationally, sales by gun stores and other holders of federal firearms licenses are required to check backgrounds on all buyers and to record all sales. But people who sell firearms occasionally don’t need a federal license and aren’t authorized to contact the NICS before a sale. Occasional sellers include collectors working at shows and people passing on hunting rifles to friends and relatives.

Louisiana doesn’t require background checks on firearm sales beyond what federal laws demand. The Pelican State doesn’t require private sellers to initiate background checks, though a number of other states do. Today nearly 40 percent of all states and the District of Columbia require background checks for some or all private firearm sales.

In a scorecard by San Francisco-based Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, ranking the strength of gun laws in fifty states, Louisiana came in 43rd or near the bottom last year, while Mississippi was 50th. For numbers of gun deaths, Louisiana was near the top at third and Mississippi was fourth. California and New Jersey not only had the strongest gun laws last year, but they had comparatively low gun deaths, according to the scorecard.

Wade Hanks of Jean Lafitte Promotions in Mississippi said his group will hold three gun shows at the Castine Center in Mandeville this year, with an average 2,500 visitors at each. Jean Lafitte will organize two shows this year at the West Monroe Convention Center, with about 1,800 visitors each, and it will run another show in Monroe with a television station. While most dealers at these venues will be licensed, he advises private gun sellers at the shows to check buyers’ IDs, especially for age.

Under Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:91, it’s unlawful to sell or deliver for value any firearm, or instrument typically used as a dangerous weapon, to someone under age eighteen. Not knowing a minor’s age can’t be used as a seller’s defense.

At a Mandeville gun show to be held at the Castine Center on April 21 to 22, ATF will have a table to provide information, but not background checks, Hanks said. “People have lots of questions about gun ownership now, particularly after last month’s high school shootings in Parkland, Florida,” he said. That tragedy claimed 17 lives.

Bean said ATF representatives sometimes set up at his group’s shows. Agents were at the mid-month show in Kenner to answer questions and distribute information. “We welcome them,” he said.

Matthew Miller, health sciences and epidemiology professor at Northeastern University and an adjunct professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, provided results of a study released with colleagues two years ago. In a survey of 1,613 adult American gun owners in 2015, 22 percent of those who had acquired their latest firearm within the previous two years said they’d done so without a background check. For firearms they’d bought privately in the previous two years—including sales between individuals, at gun shows or online — 50 percent were obtained without background checks. “Millions of U.S. adults continue to acquire guns without background checks, especially in states that don’t regulate private firearm sales,” the study found.

In their report, Miller and colleagues referred to a Johns Hopkins study by Katherine Vittes and others, released in 2012, of state prison inmates in the 13 U.S states with the most lenient standards for buying guns. The respondents were mainly in Louisiana, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi and New Mexico. Among the two-fifths of inmates surveyed who had been prohibited from buying guns when they committed the crime that sent them to jail most recently, 96.1 percent had acquired their guns from suppliers who weren’t required to do background checks.

A number of states and the District of Columbia have extended rules on background checks above and beyond federal laws, to private sales, according to the Giffords Law Center. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and the District of Columbia require universal background checks at points of sale for transfers of all firearms from licensed and unlicensed sellers.

Maryland and Pennsylvania require point-of-sale, background checks for handguns, but not for long guns, such as rifles and shotguns. In Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey, all firearm buyers must obtain permits, issued after background checks, in order to make purchases. Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and North Carolina have a similar permit and background-check requirements for buying handguns, but not long guns. Illinois requires a point-of-sale background check when a firearm is sold at a gun show.

President Donald Trump, under pressure from the National Rifle Association and other groups, this month backed away from some of his recent ideas about tightening laws on gun purchases. But he still supports stronger background checks. Trump said a commission, to be chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, would be formed to find ways to make schools safer.

This article originally published in the March 19, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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