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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. 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.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Mark Nyffeler on 03/05/2010 - 10:56 am.

    I understand why Ms Martens would author something like this. She is involved with the Brady group and their Million Moms group in Minnesot. But, Paymar? Get off the Gunshow thing already. According the US Department of Justice figures, 0.7% of prison inmates who were in prison for crimes involving guns got their guns at a gunshow. This effort by Paymar to place additional restrictions on private citizens clearly shows he lacks a good set of legislative priorities. Why don’t you try doing something that will actually reduce violent crime. Putting all this effort to attack 0.7% of the problem is just stupid.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 03/05/2010 - 11:44 am.

    Not sure where Nyfeller gets his stats, but I do know this. It is ONE gun too many if it is your son, daughter, wife or husband who is killed. then the stats mean nothing to the survivors.

    Virtually all of the most liberal among us respect the Second Amendment; but the proliferation of cheap handguns in densely populated urban areas, with known gangs and high crime rates believe it is just plain common sense and prudent to introduce some rules of ownership. I know of no persons who have advocated the repeal of the Amendment — and the unfounded fear of that (without basis) is what keeps the NRA going.

    There is a reason virtually all police forces throughout the country want stronger gun control laws; it is their lives at risk especially when it is the more potent arms that are roaming the streets.

    In the Washington DC SCOTA decision, Justice Breyer in his dissent noted that carried out to the max, the decision would allow the sale of ANY GUN WHATSOEVER INCLUDING MACHINES GUNS OR WORSE, TO BE SOLD WITHOUT RESTRICTION! In fact, the word “arms” in the amendment (not the word “guns” is used) could be construed as anything from a pistol to a cannon, as absurd as that may sound. None of the Justices who voted to allow guns in Washington challenged that point of view. So it is at gun shows, arms of all kinds, types and sizes are for sale to whoever wishes to buy them.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/05/2010 - 12:26 pm.

    Front page, today’s Strib:

    “Unemployment rate unchanged at 9.7 percent”

    Nice to see Rep. Paymar has his eye on the ball.

  4. Submitted by Paul Blincow on 03/05/2010 - 01:10 pm.

    The bill , due to some parliamentary games playing, was discussed but then pulled when it was apparent it did not have enough votes to pass.

    If prior years and attempts by Rep Paymar are any example, This bill is like a hydra, it will be back, probably in the dead of night or before a committee which does not take public testimony.

    Remember, Representative is a job title, not an honorific. The people at the legislature work for us, not their pet biases or projects.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/06/2010 - 11:46 pm.

    On the very day before your head line….

    Front page March 4th Strib..

    “Smuggler admits secreting dozens of guns into Mexico” March 4, 2010 Strib

    //Twenty times over three years, Paul Giovanni de la Rosa made the long drive from Medford, Minn., to Taxco, Mexico, to see his childhood friend. Nineteen times, he said, he crossed the border at Laredo, Texas, without trouble — despite a stash of hidden guns.//

    //The indictment against De la Rosa details gun purchases dating back to January 2007. He bought Glock, Ruger, Bersa and Beretta pistols, but he also purchased rifles, derringers and revolvers.//

    I call and raise you one Browning FN High-Power, 9mm Parabellum Thomas

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/08/2010 - 08:35 am.

    Just by way of contrast, how many of the same conservative locales where folks are so opposed to these laws, and how many of the folks who oppose such background checks have other laws which require a person who has been caught urinating in public and charged with public indecency to register as a sex offender and thereafter have their name posted on a web site which identifies them as such without specifying their actual offense,

    And which is more likely to cause you or your family harm? Such an individual as described above or an acquaintance or former spouse of your son, your daughter, or yourself with whom your loved one split because of their tendency toward violence and/or chemical abuse who is able, despite laws to the contrary, to walk into a flea market or gun show anywhere and pick up any kind of firearm their enraged heart desires?

    How about a little proportion, here! Surely firearms in the hands of those who with psychological issues are a bit more dangerous to the overall health and well being of our loved ones and our society than certain below the belt body parts?!

  7. Submitted by Rick Singh on 05/05/2011 - 01:05 pm.

    I think this is a sensitive issue that requires a great deal of work and time to fix properly. On one side its true that not preforming background checks is bad, but what if we make laws that are too restrictive? Like now we have to preform background checks when people buy camping lanterns because someone might use one when they go hunting over a long weekend1 Really what I’m trying to say is don’t rush into things and try to come up with the best solution possible.

  8. Submitted by Robert Johannesburg on 04/24/2012 - 06:20 pm.

    Gun Laws

    Thanks for such an interesting article. It’s really made me think. I’ve always thought there was benefits to having such easy access at gun shows. For one, whenever I’ve needed to buy a holster suitable for horse packing equipment, or a firearm for my excursion, it’s always been so easy to do so at a gun show. But with all these school shooting that have been happening lately, I can see why that might need to change. How long do these background checks usually take? If it can be done within the time frame of the gun show, it becomes a little less convenient, but not in a way that is too burdensome. ( )

  9. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 03/06/2013 - 06:39 pm.

    Private sales of firearms at gunshow.

    The idiot Paymar wants to stop people from selling something that is rightfully belong to you. If it belongs to you, you should be able to sell it to who ever you want. They don’t care if you sell a car to a drunk or a large bad to shop lifter. If people can’t do it out front at a gun show, they will do it out of there car in a parking lot. How is the idiot going to stop the sales of stolen guns? I have asked him several times and he won’t respond.

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