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Medical News & Perspectives |

Firearms Sales via “Gun Show Loophole” Thwart Efforts to Reduce Gun Violence

Thomas B. Cole, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2008;300(6):640-641. doi:10.1001/jama.300.6.640.
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Last spring, a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of US mayors who want more stringent regulation of firearm sales, unveiled a television commercial featuring clips from speeches by the 3 leading presidential candidates. In these clips, Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton (D, NY), Sen Barack Obama (D, Ill), and Sen John McCain (R, Ariz) said they oppose a “gun show loophole” that allows individuals to purchase firearms without a background check.

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A sandwich sign worn by a vendor at a gun show advertises an array of firearms for sale.

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Anatomy of a straw purchase
In this series of photographs taken at a gun show by researcher Garen J. Wintemute, MD, MPH, (1) the firearm vendor, at left, calls to request a federal background check (which is required for all sales of firearms by licensed dealers) on the woman in the green halter top. The woman is accompanied by the man in the white shirt, at right, who appears to be the person for whom the gun is being purchased. (2) After the woman clears the background check, she pays the vendor in cash. (3) The woman completes the paperwork for her license to buy and own the firearm. (4) The man, however, takes possession of the firearm. Later, the man is observed buying a case for the gun and returns to the original firearm vendor to ask how to take it apart and pack it in the case.

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Some vendors at gun shows specifically advertise “private party sales,” which are understood by federal authorities and patrons of gun shows to be undocumented sales by unlicensed firearms dealers. Collectors and persons “not engaged in the business” may legally conduct such sales.

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