Three of Louisiana’s most prominent gun show promoters say President Barack Obama’s executive action Tuesday tightening gun control laws is unnecessary and won’t make a significant impact on munition sales at the events. Nevertheless, they said the action is an example of government overreach.
The centerpiece of Obama’s announcement is an expansion in background checks resulting from a clarification in the current law that further defines which sellers must be licensed and conduct background checks.
The law previously required anyone “engaged in the business” of selling guns to meet those marks. But the law failed to clearly identify who was considered “engaged in the business,” leaving a loophole for some gun merchants to remain unlicensed.
The executive action calls for hobbyists who regularly sell guns with the principal motive of making a profit to become licensed firearm dealers who must abide by the same background checks commercial dealers use.
Gun shows and the Internet are frequently cited by gun reform advocates as areas where gun laws can be particularly lax because background checks can be circumvented.
However, three Louisiana gun show promoters contacted Tuesday say the “gun show loophole” is a myth because the vast majority of sales at gun shows still require background checks.
Ben Hewett, a promoter of Classic Arms Productions gun shows, which is planning 25 shows this year in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, said only 5 percent of their vendors are unlicensed. The rest are traditional commercial arms dealers who are federally licensed.
“The president opened his talk by saying he’s here to prevent the next mass shooting, but in general, what he proposed really doesn’t have the ability to impact that,” Hewett said.
Hewett and the two other gun show promoters described their unlicensed vendors as collectors who don’t appear to be selling guns regularly. Hewett said he’s concerned the executive order could hurt those private sellers.
“Say it’s a collector with World War II guns, and he has a half-dozen World War II rifles and he wants to add or trade or sell a gun,” Hewett said. “Does he have to have a license? I think that’s an infringement on his right as a collector, because he’s not in the business.”
Linda Stadler, promoter for the Slidell Gun and Knife Show, which takes place three times a year, also said most of her vendors are licensed dealers. But sometimes, she said, “I’ll get a woman who inherited a bunch of guns from her father, so she’ll get a table so she can sell them.”
Stadler said she is concerned the changes could discourage those types of vendors that provide variety at gun shows.
Wade Hanks, promoter for Ark-La-Tex Gun Collectors Association Gun and Knife Show, said about 25 percent of his vendors are unlicensed. He said the increased regulation is unenforceable.
“If I want to give a gun to my son, he wants me to do a background check on my son,” Hanks said. “No one is going to do that. There’s no way to keep tabs on what I do with my personal gun.”
Ari Freilich, attorney for Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization based in San Francisco, said the examples cited by the gun show promoters would not be subject to background checks.
“It specifically says that this is not for the occasional sale of firearms,” he said.
Some indicators that a person should be a licensed dealer and not just a casual hobbyist are: if they accept credit cards, advertise, sell unwrapped new guns and repeatedly sell firearms with the purpose of making a profit.
Freilich said ultimately his organization’s goal is to achieve background checks for all gun transactions, but that would take an act of Congress. He said Obama’s action will “narrow the loophole but not close it entirely.”
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he believes the action will result in thousands of additional “life-saving background checks,” which have, to date, prevented more than 2.5 million dangerous people from purchasing a gun.
He said an estimated 40 percent of gun sales are completed without background checks.
Gross also stressed that the measures aren’t targeted to preventing high-profile mass shootings. He noted that 89 people die on average from gun violence in the country every day.