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The City of New York launched an undercover investigation to expose how a dangerous loophole allows guns to get into the hands of criminals.

The Investigation

UPDATE: Watch new videos from the 2011 investigation at an Arizona gunshow.

The vast majority of people who either visit or sell guns at gun shows are law-abiding citizens and dealers.

However, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms , and Explosives (ATF) reports that 30 percent of guns involved in federal illegal gun trafficking investigations are connected to gun shows.

This multi-state undercover investigation exposed how easy it is for criminals to buy guns at gun shows.

The City of New York investigated 7 gun shows in 3 states involving buys from 47 gun sellers using hidden cameras.

The investigation videos showed that 35 out of 47 sellers approached by undercover investigators at these gun shows sold guns illegally.

The term "gun show loophole" is often used to describe the fact that federal law allows private sellers to sell firearms without background checks or record keeping.

While private sellers are exempted from running background checks no matter where they make the sale, this loophole is associated with gun shows because they are the largest and most central marketplace where these private sellers can easily connect with purchasers who wish to avoid detection.

Even though they are not required to perform background checks, private dealers cannot sell to someone who they have reason to believe is prohibited from buying guns.

Investigators attempted to purchase guns after telling private sellers that they probably could not pass a background check.

19 of 30 private sellers — 63% — broke the law by completing a sale to a buyer who they thought could not pass a background check.

See the videos of sales where investigators said they probably couldn't pass a background check.

Licensed dealers cannot allow someone to fill out the paperwork and undergo the background check if the dealer knows the person is not the actual buyer of the gun. This is a "straw sale" and it is a federal felony.

The investigation looked at the practices of federally licensed dealers at gun shows to identify the prevalence of straw sales.

16 of 17 — 94% — of licensed dealers approached by our investigators at gun shows were willing to sell to someone who appeared to be a straw purchaser.

See the videos of straw sales.


The best way to stop illegal gun sales and prevent criminals and other prohibited buyers from obtaining guns at gun shows is to require background checks for all gun show sales. Nine states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws that require checks at least on all handguns sold at gun shows. States that have not closed the gun show loophole are the sources of crime guns recovered in other states at more than twice the rate of states that have closed the loophole.

87% of Americans and 83% of gun-owners favor requiring everyone who sells guns at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks on the purchasers, according to a bipartisan poll conducted in 2008. President Obama spoke in support of closing the loophole during the 2008 campaign, as did Senator John McCain.


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the federal agency charged with enforcing gun laws, needs more resources to conduct integrity tests of licensed and private dealers and investigate dealers engaged in the business of selling guns without a license. ATF should also actively identify whether recovered crime guns were purchased at gun shows, as part of its ongoing efforts to enforce existing gun laws.

Project of the City of New York. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Copyright 2009.