The Corner

Law & the Courts

Joe Biden Lied About Gun Shows

Handguns on display at the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Nev., in 2013. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/via Reuters)

Joe Biden said today, “Most people don’t know: you walk into a store and you buy a gun, but you go to a gun show you can buy whatever you want and no background check.”

This isn’t even close to being true. In fact, gun shows are subject to the same rules as apply everywhere else, which are that:

  1. commercial transfers require federal background checks, but that
  2. private transfers only require federal background checks if they are conducted within one of the thirteen states that superintend non-commercial firearms transactions

There are no special rules for gun shows. The same set of laws applies to them as applies to, say, your kitchen table: If you are in the business of selling guns, you are federally obliged to run a check. If you are not, you are not — unless your state requires you to. That’s it. There’s no “loophole” here, and nothing about gun shows that separates them from the broader debate about private sales.

It is not even the case that most gun sales at gun shows are conducted without background checks. Because most guns sold at gun shows are sold by commercial sellers — that is, by people who are in the business of selling guns, as opposed to people selling a gun they inherited or no longer want — most guns sold at gun shows are accompanied by a background check. Don’t believe me? Go to a gun show yourself. Occasionally, you will see someone walking around with a sign saying that he has a gun for private sale — just as he would be able to anywhere else, including via the classifieds. In every other case, you’ll see dealers on the phone with the FBI.

When Biden says “you go to a gun show you can buy whatever you want and no background check,” he is trying to conjure up in the public’s mind the idea that the United States is full of arbitrarily unregulated gun stores. It is not.

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