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Letters to the 107th Congress

April 18, 2001

The Honorable Jack Reed
United States Senate
320 Hart Office Buildin-3903
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Reed:

I am writing on behalf of the American Bar Association to express our appreciation and strong support for your leadership in introducing legislation to require criminal background checks prior to completion of sales of firearms at gun shows. We believe your legislation should be enacted in this Congress as part of a growing bipartisan consensus to take common-sense steps to strengthen the enforceability of laws to deny criminals and teens access to firearms.

The ABA strongly supports steps to close loopholes in the federally-licensed firearms dealer/criminal background check system that currently allows criminals and juveniles to readily acquire guns. We support strengthening current law to require a criminal background check prior to the sale of any firearm, without exception. Exceptions now permit unchecked sales at gun shows, sales without checks over the Internet, and unlimited "straw purchases" that result in the transfer of guns to juveniles and felons who could not buy them through a federally licensed gun dealer.

Each year in the U.S. there are thousands of gun shows, including flea markets and swap meets, where guns are sold without criminal background checks. While federally licensed firearm dealers (FFLs) who sell guns at such events are required to conduct Brady criminal background checks prior to completing sales, unlicensed vendors sell their guns at the same events at tables nearby without being required to conduct such checks. Criminals and other persons prohibited from buying or possessing guns seek out the unlicensed sellers, knowing there will be no check to prevent them from buying guns on the spot. These sales further hinder law enforcement efforts because they are not subject to record keeping and cannot later be traced.

Because of lax regulations, the precise extent of criminal activity associated with gun show sales is not currently known, but recent investigations confirm the reality that criminals exploit the opportunity to buy guns at gun shows. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in a 1998 study found 318 cases of criminal activity at gun shows involving more than 54,000 guns. Law enforcement sting operations in the past three years in Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee uncovered widespread criminal violations at gun shows. In 1999, the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Justice issued a report, Gun Shows: Brady Checks and Crime Gun Traces, which concluded that the problem is nationwide and that "Gun shows provide a large market where criminals can shop for firearms anonymously."

The gun lobby often argues that expanding current law to sales at gun shows will in effect ban gun shows. This argument is belied by the facts. For example, under California law every firearm sale, including those between private sellers, is subject to a background check conducted by a licensed dealer and the sale is also subject to the state's 10-day waiting period. In California and several states with similar laws regulating gun shows sales, gun shows survive and are thriving. In addition, FFLs selling at gun shows are already required to comply with the requirement to conduct a criminal background check.

In May 1999, the United States Senate passed legislation that would have effectively closed the gun show loophole. A measure sponsored by then-Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) passed as an amendment to juvenile justice legislation (S. 254). Unfortunately, the Lautenberg proposal failed in the House of Representatives and Congress never took final action on S. 254. Since then, however, voters in Colorado and Oregon have overwhelming approved state-wide referenda to require criminal background checks at guns shows, and the New York State legislature has enacted a gun show statute. We believe the public dialogue that has taken place in the last two years has moved the issue forward for timely resolution in this Congress.

The ABA strongly supports the Reed legislation to close the gun show loophole. We strongly urge like-minded colleagues in the 107th Congress seeking to strengthen law enforcement efforts to reduce gun violence to act promptly to approve this much-needed legislation and make our laws providing for criminal background checks enforceable at gun shows.


Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

107th Congress Letters Home

Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
ph: 202-662-1760
fx: 202-662-1762

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