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Minnesota must close loophole that allows gun-show sales without background checks

The footage from the hidden camera is at an odd angle, and the background noise is loud at the crowded gun show in Forest Lake, Minn.

The footage from the hidden camera is at an odd angle, and the background noise is loud at the crowded gun show in Forest Lake, Minn. Colin Goddard, who was shot four times at Virginia Tech two years ago, is visiting the gun show to demonstrate how a giant loophole in the law allows anyone to buy a firearm, including assault weapons, at a gun show without undergoing a background check. (View the video here.)

Federally licensed gun dealers, like Cabela’s and Gander Mountain, are required by law to conduct a background check on potential gun buyers. When licensed dealers are at gun shows, they are still bound by that requirement.

But Colin has walked past the licensed dealers. He is talking to a seller who isn’t governed by those rules. This seller is an unlicensed, “private” seller.

“OK, there’s no tax.” The seller says, “There’s no paperwork. That’s worth something. Ha ha ha ha!”

‘I wouldn’t pass one either, bud’
A similar scenario plays out in Ohio, as an undercover investigator from New York City visits an unlicensed seller at a gun show. The investigator even says he couldn’t pass a background check. “I wouldn’t pass one either, bud,” the seller replies, smiling broadly at his own joke.

When even these sellers know the law is a joke, we’ve got a problem. That we have a problem is confirmed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). According to the bureau, 30 percent of guns traced to crimes are connected to gun shows and flea markets.

It’s easy to see why. Felons, domestic abusers and people with serious mental-health problems can walk into most gun shows and buy what they want, no questions asked.

Research shows that access to firearms by a batterer is the No. 1 risk factor for a domestic assault victim. This is why federal laws were passed that prohibit domestic-assault offenders from possessing guns. But if a convicted batterer can walk right into a gun show and buy another gun, no questions asked, we are failing to protect victims.

Minnesota must close the gun show loophole and require that all sellers at gun shows, not just licensed dealers, make sure buyers pass a background check. Colorado, a hunting state like Minnesota, did it 10 years ago. Three guns used in the Columbine massacre had been bought at a gun show on the killers’ behalf. The buyer admitted that she wouldn’t have bought the guns had a background check been required.

Old, tired argument
When we propose closing this loophole, we hear the same old, tired argument that we should “enforce the laws we have.” When the “laws we have” allow felons and other dangerous people a legal way to avoid a background check, then the “laws we have” are laughable.

There is no reason for foot-dragging. Even conservative pollster Frank Luntz has pulled the mask off the gun lobby’s claim that gun owners oppose reasonable regulations like the one we are proposing. In a nationwide survey commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 86 percent of gun owners agreed that more could be done to “stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.” And even among National Rifle Association members, 69 percent support closing the gun-show loophole. Gun owners know that rights come with responsibilities, and that reasonable gun regulation is the best protection for legitimate rights.

The Minnesota Association of Chiefs of Police also supports closing the gun show loophole. In Minnesota, 82 percent of the public supports background checks for all gun sales, according to a University of Minnesota Center for Survey Research poll.

During this legislative session, budget issues loom large — making prevention all the more important for our state budget. Since 1994, background checks have stopped 1.6 million prohibited people from buying guns. This kind of prevention works. If we value life, we should do all we can to keep dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands.

Rep. Michael Paymar, D-St. Paul, is the chair of the Public Safety Finance Committee. Heather Martens is the executive director of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota. A bill to close the gun-show loophole, HF 2960/SF 2659, is scheduled to get a hearing at the Legislature today.