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The truth about gun shows

Would background checks have prevented the Littleton shooting?

Brooks Jackson/CNN

May 14, 1999
Web posted at: 6:14 p.m. EDT (2214 GMT)

WASHINGTON (May 14) -- Gun shows. There are thousands of them -- 4,442 advertised just last year and 472 of them alone were in the state of Texas.

Most go on for two days, drawing an average of more than 2,500 persons each, according to promoters.

Most of the sellers at gun shows are federally licensed dealers, required by the Brady Law to perform background checks on buyers before completing a sale. But two out of five sales made at gun shows are done with no background check, as even gun-show defenders admit.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) said Wednesday on the Senate floor, "There appears to be about 40 percent of sales that are private by definition of the law."

The law does not require background checks by non-licensed sellers -- those not "engaged in the business," making only "occasional" sales.

Promoters call these shows "showcases of freedom." The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms says most who attend are indeed law-abiding citizens, but the shows also provide a forum for illegal trafficking.

The ATF says it conducted 314 recent investigations associated with gun shows -- including 145 cases involving felons buying or selling guns, and 108 cases in which at least one gun-show gun was later used in a crime.

Gun-show defenders say that's not much.

"Even the Justice Department says that guns that are sold at gun shows, less than two percent find themselves in illegal activities," said Craig.

That's almost right. In fact, a Justice Department study asked persons who had been arrested where they got their guns; 35 percent said from the street, 23 percent said from family or friends, 20 percent said from shops, and only two percent said from gun shows.

But that two percent includes some well-known cases, like Littleton, Colorado, where all four guns carried by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, passed through gun shows.

Whether a background check would have kept the Littleton shooters from getting weapons is questionable -- officials say they broke lots of other gun laws. But federal officials say Brady-law background checks have prevented more than 250,000 weapons from being sold to felons and other prohibited purchasers. Reason enough, they say, to require checks of all buyers at gun shows.


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Friday, May 14, 1999

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