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|U.S. Firearms Legal Topics|
A gun show is a temporary exhibition or gathering in the United States where firearms, firearm accessories, ammunition, literature, knives, militaria, and miscellaneous collectibles are displayed, bought, sold, traded, and discussed. Gun shows also often include exhibitions related to hunting and the preparation and preservation of wild game for consumption. They also may be used by gun manufacturers to demonstrate new firearm models—or by gun enthusiasts to exhibit antique or unusual guns. Gun shows also serve as common and recurring meeting places for enthusiasts to discuss gun culture topics such as the right to keep and bear arms.
Gun shows are typically held in public buildings, including hotels, malls, armories, stadiums, etc., and are open to the public with a nominal fee charged for admittance. They are almost always two-day events held on weekends by promoters who lease the space and allow dealers or private sellers to rent tables to display their wares and/or advertise services they provide.
In 2005, Michael Bouchard, Assistant Director/Field Operations of ATF, estimated that 5,000 gun shows take place each year in the United States. Most gun shows have 2,500 to 15,000 attendees over a two-day period. The number of tables at a gun show varies from as few as fifty to as many as 2,000. At the largest gun shows, over 1,000 firearms are sold over two days.
Under the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), firearm dealers with a Federal Firearms License (FFL) were prohibited from doing business at gun shows (they were only permitted to do business at the address listed on their license). That changed with the enactment of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA), which allows FFLs to transfer firearms at gun shows provided they follow the provisions of the GCA and other pertinent federal regulations. The ATF reports that between 50% and 75% of the vendors at gun shows possess a Federal Firearms License.
After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, gun shows became controversial in the United States. Those concerned about these events believe that American gun shows are a primary source of illegally trafficked firearms, both within the United States and abroad. Those supporting gun shows believe their Second Amendment rights are being jeopardized.
In 2000, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) published "Following the Gun," its analysis of more than 1,530 trafficking investigations over a two-and-a-half-year period and found gun shows to have the second highest number of trafficked guns per investigation, after corrupt FFL dealers. (Straw purchasers were the most common channel, but averaged a relatively small number of trafficked guns per investigation compared to corrupt FFLs and gun shows.):x-xi These investigations involved a total of 84,128 firearms that had been diverted from legal to illegal commerce. All told, the report identified more than 26,000 firearms that had been illegally trafficked through gun shows in 212 separate investigations. The report stated that:
In contrast, a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report on “Firearms Use by Offenders” found that only 0.8% of prison inmates reported acquiring firearms used in their crimes "At a gun show," with repeat offenders less likely than first-time offenders to report acquiring firearms from a retail source, gun show or flea market. This 2001 study examined data from a 1997 Department of Justice survey of more than 18,000 federal and state prison inmates in 1,409 State prisons and 127 Federal prisons. The remaining 99.2% of inmates reported obtaining firearms from other sources, including "From a friend/family member" (36.8%), "Off the street/from a drug dealer" (20.9%), "From a fence/black market source" (9.6%), "From a pawnshop," "From a flea market," "From the victim," or "In a burglary." 9% of inmates replied "Don't Know/Other" to the question of where they acquired a firearm and 4.4% refused to answer. The Department of Justice did not attempt to verify the firearms reported in the survey or trace them to determine their chain of possession from original retail sale to the time they were transferred to the inmates surveyed (in cases where inmates were not the original retail purchaser).
Garen Wintemute, a professor of emergency room medicine and director of UC Davis’ Violence Prevention Research Program, released a study in 2007 which held that gun shows are a venue for illegal activity, including straw purchases and unlicensed sales to prohibited individuals. In contrast, in 2008, professors Mark Duggan and Randi Hjalmarsson at the University of Maryland and Brian Jacob from the University of Michigan released a paper which stated that gun shows do not lead to substantial increases in either gun homicides or gun suicides.
From 2004 to 2006, ATF conducted surveillance and undercover investigations at 195 gun shows (approximately 2% of all shows). Specific targeting of suspected individuals (77%) resulted in 121 individual arrests and 5,345 firearms seizures. Seventy nine of the 121 ATF operation plans were known suspects previously under investigation.
Additionally, ATF Field Offices report that:
Regarding the trafficking of firearms from the U.S. into Mexico, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in June 2009 that stated:
The GAO report has been corroborated through other sources. William Newell, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division, testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in March 2009, stating, “Drug traffickers are able to obtain firearms and ammunition more easily in the U.S., including sources in the secondary market such as gun shows and flea markets. Depending on State law, the private sale of firearms at those venues often does not require record keeping or background checks prior to the sale.”  The ATF has also reported that, “Trends indicate the firearms illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are becoming more powerful. ATF has analyzed firearms seizures in Mexico from FY 2005-07 and identified the following weapons most commonly used by drug traffickers: 9mm pistols; .38 Super pistols; 5.7mm pistols; .45-caliber pistols; AR-15 type rifles; and AK-47 type rifles.”  However, this is based only on the weapons sent to the ATF to be traced, a small portion of all firearms seized by the Mexican government, and the extent to which they are representative of all seized firearms is disputed. According to Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, "Mexico's southern border with Guatemala has long been an entry point for such weapons and today could account for 10 to 15 percent coming through." William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott have described Mexico as a "virtual arms bazaar," where one can purchase a wide variety of military weapons from international sources: "fragmentation grenades from South Korea, AK-47s from China, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers from Spain, Israel and former Soviet bloc manufacturers." In addition, they say that Mexican drug cartels have long-established drug- and gun-running ties with Latin American revolutionary movements such as Colombia's FARC. Further, China has supplied military arms to Latin America and Chinese-made assault weapons have been recovered in Mexico, according to Amnesty International. Finally, the Mexican army has seen rampant desertion rates (150,000 in the last six years) and many soldiers have taken their weapons home with them, including Belgian-made M16s.
Additionally, skeptics have said that it would be difficult for the Mexican drug cartels to acquire fully automatic firearms at American gun shows (as opposed to the semiautomatic-only versions of these firearms that are legal on the U.S. civilian market). To purchase or transfer a fully automatic firearm legally, U.S. citizens must pay a $200 transfer tax, submit a full set of fingerprints on FBI Form FD-258, obtain certification provided by a chief law enforcement officer ("CLEO": the local chief of police, sheriff of the county, head of the State police, or State or local district attorney or prosecutor), and obtain final approval from the BATF on a Form 4 transfer of NFA registration to the new owner. In addition, only fully automatic firearms manufactured before the Firearm Owner's Protection Act of 1986 are permitted to be transferred. No fully automatic firearms (machine guns) recovered in Mexico have been traced to the United States.