Gun-show loophole: Dealers, buyers do home-state dance
9:02 PM, Jan 22, 2013
When gun control advocates talk about closing the "gun show loophole," it's a 70-year-old retiree named Norm from Henderson they want to stop.
Norm, who declined to give his full name for fear of getting robbed if it were published, was among the hundreds of private sellers who crowded into the Las Vegas Sports Center on Saturday to exchange guns for cash -- no background check needed.
It's a practice that will be outlawed if Congress adopts President Barack Obama's proposal to require background checks on all gun purchases, not just the ones involving a federally licensed seller.
Asked who could buy his Uzi semi-automatic weapon with a bundle of 30-round magazines, Norm replied, "Anyone who has $2,000."
As far as Norm's concerned, Obama -- and the 80 percent of Americans who recent polls show agree with efforts to close the loophole -- can go take a long walk in the hot desert.
At stake, Norm said, was nothing less than his constitutional rights under the Second Amendment and his personal freedom to sell his property when and how he chooses. Rules forcing him to call the federal government to get clearance for each of his buyers would be an undue burden that would cost him money.
"This is a good time to cash in," he said. "This is doing better than my CDs and 401(k) combined. So who's going to tell me I can't sell something that's mine, and to whomever I want to?"
In Nevada, it's perfectly legal for one private resident to sell firearms to another resident, no questions asked. Still, private sellers are supposed to ask for proof of residency -- especially in transactions of weapons such as Norm's Uzi with the high-capacity magazines.
Yet law enforcement officials say that loophole is exploited every weekend, when sellers -- motivated by the chance for quick cash -- turn a blind eye to the buyer's home state. Obama, citing a 1997 study, estimated last week that 40 percent of the 300 million firearms in circulation were purchased off-market, such as at gun shows.
Since last month's massacre of 20 schoolchildren and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., gun show organizers, much like federally licensed gun shop owners, have reported record attendance and sales -- a buying frenzy fueled by concern that new regulations will make it more difficult to purchase weapons.
In an attempt to gauge how frequently private sellers checked for identification at the Las Vegas Gun Show, a Chronicle reporter approached five sellers to ask about buying a tactical rifle such as an AR-15, which is outlawed in California as an assault weapon. In each case, the seller was told he was dealing with a California resident who was hoping to buy the weapon for cash.
Of the five, one asked to see proof of Nevada residency before the sales discussion progressed, while four never asked. They were informed they were talking to a reporter only after the terms of the sale were agreed upon and the cash was requested.
A seller named Joe agreed to sell a POF-brand AR-15-style assault weapon, including grenade launcher, for $3,500. Joe, who said he was originally from Ocean Beach in San Diego, pressured his California client to act fast.
"These are banned in your state, but they're going to get banned everywhere soon," he said. "You can buy it for an investment."
Told later he was talking to a reporter, Joe, who declined to give his last name, quickly changed his tune and said he would not have completed the sale. "I don't know what the laws are in your state, so you need to know what's going on out there first. I can't sell you anything today."
At the Antique Gun Show on Friday at the Riviera Hotel, where about 300 exhibitors sold both aging and modern firearms, Charles McManis of Reno pointed to a man he said had just asked him to approve the sale of a gun for a California resident. McManis said that while he ran background checks, he'd be resentful if federal law dictated that he do a rap-sheet run on a friend who wanted to buy a gun at his home.
"We're not dealing with a gun problem here, we're dealing with a person problem," he said. "If guns were so dangerous, every person in this room would be dead, because we have thousands and thousands of guns here, and there's far more guns than people."
Both of Las Vegas' public gun shows were held on the heels of the world's largest firearms trade industry convention, which drew 60,000 people to town and closed Friday. Organizers of the two weekend events said they had scheduled their shows to piggyback on the industry convention, well aware their booths would be flush with inventory and their aisles crowded with buyers.
To gun-control proponents, the weapons-centric week sparked concern that what happened in Vegas will linger in Vegas.
And then it will get trafficked into neighboring cities and states.
"From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense," said Aimee Riley, a former student body president at the College of Southern Nevada who was among a small group of local residents who protested the industry show. "But it's also exploiting the situation and our community. It's reprehensible."
(Contact Justin Berton, a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer, at email@example.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)