Who could possibly oppose closing the gun show loophole? Preventing criminals
from obtaining guns is everyone's goal. It is an important goal even though
fewer than 2 percent of criminal guns originate from gun shows. Yet, Measure 5
has little to do with gun shows and will not stop criminals from obtaining guns.
Claims about a loophole have convinced many people that the rules for buying
a gun at a gun show are different from buying a gun elsewhere. That is false.
Two types of people sell guns: registered dealers and private individuals.
Registered dealers must fill out the same forms and meet the same requirements
regardless of where they sell a gun.
Private transfers are unregulated, but they are unregulated both inside and
outside a gun show. If the initiative passes and private transfers at gun shows
are regulated in the same way as the sales by registered dealers, the
initiative's advocates will next complain about a new loophole, private
transfers outside of shows.
The initiative clumsily attempts to plug this new loophole by defining
"gun shows" so broadly as to encompass many non-gun show transfers of
guns. If a father owns a gun collection and gives one to his child for
Christmas, that transfer risks being classified as a "gun show."
Even the authors of the initiative apparently realize that even these broad
gun transfer checks will not stop criminals who don't want their transfers
monitored. To try tracking transfers, they mandate that registration records
will be kept by the government for five years on all guns (not just handguns,
which is the current rule). Unfortunately, such cumbersome measures will
increase crime, not decrease it.
Licensing and registration may sound like effective crime fighting tools: If
a gun is left at the scene of the crime, one could possibly trace a gun back to
its owner. But, amazingly, despite police spending tens of thousands of man
hours annually administering these laws for decades in Hawaii (the one state
with both rules), or in Chicago and Washington, D.C., there has not been one
single case where the laws have been instrumental in identifying someone who has
committed a crime.
The reason is simple. First, criminals very rarely leave their guns at the
scene of the crime. Would-be criminals also virtually never register their
Yet, aren't background checks effective in preventing criminals from getting
guns? Unfortunately, no. Despite extensive research, there is not one single
academic study concluding that background checks reduce violent crime.
Criminals aren't stopped simply because they don't obey the laws. But it is
the law-abiding citizens who suffer the consequences. For example, the Brady
Act's waiting period prevented women who were stalked or threatened from quickly
obtaining guns for self-defense.
Measure 5 faces even worse problems with indefinite delays possible in
obtaining a gun. The poor will also bear the brunt of the fees and risk being
priced out of gun ownership. They are the ones most vulnerable to crime and who
benefit the most from being able to protect themselves.
Furthermore, the rules are needlessly complicated. For example, if the gun is
not transferred within 24 hours of approval, the entire process has to be gone
Even if a gun show initiative indeed reduced crime, why have a definition so
broad that it criminalizes the simple transfer of a gun between family members?
Rules discouraging law-abiding citizens from obtaining guns or diverting police
resources to handling unproductive paperwork increase violent crime.
John Lott Jr. is a senior research scholar at the Yale
University Law School and author of More Guns, Less Crime. The second edition of
his book "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control
Laws" will be published in June of 2000.