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How Criminals Get Their Guns

Adam Clark Estes
How Criminals Get Their Guns

It's unclear how William Spengler, a convicted felon, got the gun he used to shoot at firefighters he'd lured to the scene of a blaze. But data suggests that an NRA-supported loophole makes it pretty easy for anybody to buy a gun, regardless of his or her background. Think Progress points us to the "gun show loophole," an exception to the Brady Law -- ironically, the same one that bans felons from being able to buy or posses a firearm -- allows for the purchase of firearms at gun shows without a background check. More specifically, it does not require a background check if the gun is bought from an unlicensed firearms dealer. As many as half of the dealers at gun shows are unlicensed. 

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This is a problem. "Not surprisingly, criminals exploit the private sales loophole," reads a 2009 study from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. "Data from a national survey of inmates indicated that nearly 80 percent of those who had used a handgun in a crime had acquired it through a transaction with an individual who was not a licensed gun dealer." It's hard to know how many of those came from gun shows and how many came from the black market, but it's easy to see how closing one little loophole could have a pronounced effect on gun violence. And the horrible Christmas Eve shooting in Webster, New York provides a pretty powerful case study.

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The NRA does not want this loophole closed. When Minnesota tried to tweak its gun laws to require background checks at gun shows, the organization flipped out, calling the proposed measures "a stepping stone for gun control advocates seeking to ban all private sales, even among family and friends." Not that it's a surprise. This is the same organization who said that the solution to gun violence is more guns, after the unprecedented school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, that rhetoric doesn't bring back any of the children from Sandy Hook, and it certainly hasn't stopped more gun violence since then.

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Inevitably, we learned -- or rather, we were reminded of -- one thing after the shootings on Christmas Eve. It is not difficult for people who want to fire guns at other people to find the guns they need to do it. And if it were harder, there's a chance we could've avoided the tragedies in Newtown and Webster. Unfortunately for everyone, there are more ifs than that.