The “Gun Show Loophole” is a gap in federal law that allows private citizens, who are not licensed firearms dealers, to sell guns without conducting background checks or keeping records. These “private sellers” often sell guns at the thousands of gun shows that take place every weekend across the country. But, private sales of guns also take place daily between individuals as people sell guns to family members, friends and strangers without any requirement that the purchaser undergo a background check.

  • Federal law requires federally licensed gun dealers (FFLs) to conduct background checks on all buyers to make sure they are not felons or otherwise prohibited from owning guns. Dealers must conduct background checks whether at their primary place of business, or at a gun show. Dealers also keep buyer records in the event a gun is recovered in a crime and ATF needs to trace its serial number to its owner.
  • Private sellers are not required to conduct background checks or keep records. In fact, federal law prevents private sellers from access to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS).
  • Many criminals, knowing they can bypass background checks by purchasing from private sellers, use gun shows and individual sales as their source for obtaining guns.

The gun show loophole facilitates
sales to criminals:

  • 30% of trafficking: One ATF study found that over 10,000 crime guns traced in a year were connected to gun shows – about 30% of all crime guns traced that year.
  • “Gun shows and flea markets are a major venue for illegal trafficking.” according to the ATF.
  • Columbine: All four guns used in the Columbine school
    massacre were bought at gun shows without background checks.
  • New York City’s investigation of gun shows: In 2009, the City of New York sent undercover investigators to gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee and Nevada to find out if private sellers and federally licensed gun dealers at the shows would engage in illegal sales practices. They found that 74% of sellers approached by investigators, who verbally indicated they were legally prohibited from having guns, were willing to make the sale.

Widespread support for closing the
gun show loophole:

  • A majority of NRA members support closing the loophole: In a poll conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, 69% of NRA members and 85% of non-NRA gun owners supported background checks for all gun sales at gun shows.
  • 87% of Americans favor a requirement that everyone who sells guns at gun shows conduct criminal background checks on all purchases, according to a bipartisan 2008 poll.

Dept. of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, “Following the Gun: Enforcing Federal Laws Against Firearms Traffickers” (June 2000), available at (documents criminal investigations started July 1996 through December 1998).

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