The Perpetual Scapegoat of the ‘Gun Show Loophole’

by Jim Geraghty

I thought I had seen a flicker of progress in the debate about gun control, in that Monday seemed to bring fewer references to the so-called “gun show loophole” that is persistently trotted out as a key legislative priority after a mass shooting.

But I was wrong. While there was more discussion about “bump stocks” and Hillary Clinton’s warnings about loosening restrictions on silencers, some gun control advocates pointed to the “gun show loophole” yet again. Last night Jimmy Kimmel focused on it in his opening monologue, and Chris Murphy, perhaps the most adamant advocate for gun control in the Senate, called for it yesterday.

Some advocates of gun control use the euphemism “universal background checks,” perhaps because they recognize the term “gun show loophole” leaves the impression that insufficiently monitored gun sales at shows are the reason for mass shootings.

But mass shootings do not occur because of a lack of background checks. In almost every high-profile case in recent years, the perpetrator had no criminal record or record of mental illness that barred the purchase of a firearm. The infamous mass shooters in Aurora, Tucson, Roanoke, and Oregon all legally purchased their guns from federally-licensed firearms dealers in accordance with all federal and state laws. In Virginia, politicians ran ads featuring family members of victims of the Virginia Tech shooting, insisting the gun show loophole be closed. But like the others, the Virginia Tech shooter did not get his guns at a gun show; if Virginia had the desired law in place before the shooting, absolutely nothing would have changed.

There are two high-profile examples that don’t fit the mold of legal purchases: The Sandy Hook shooter stole the weapons from his mother. In the case of the Charleston shooter, local and FBI officials simply didn’t do their job correctly. Dylan Roof should have been denied his purchase because of a felony drug charge, but the FBI examiner called the wrong police department to verify it. No law can overcome human error.

This morning we learned that like most of the others, the Las Vegas shooter passed all required background checks. If there is any case of a mass shooter purchasing his firearms at a gun show, I have not encountered it.

According to a 2016 study, only 18 percent of gun crimes are committed by the legal owner of that gun. In 79 percent of gun crimes, the perpetrator is using a gun legally owned by someone else – either stolen or obtained through a straw purchase.

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