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December 8, 2008

The Unstudied Study

In September, three researchers from the University of Maryland and University of Michigan released a study that examined eleven years of data on the date and location of “every” gun show in the states of California and Texas, the nation’s two most populous states. They combined this with information on the date, location, and cause of every death occurring in these same two states during the same period. They then attempted to determine if the gun shows had an effect on gun-related deaths, with “two important caveats.” They only examined deaths that occurred within 25 miles of the gun shows, and in the four weeks immediately following their conclusion.

They concluded that the results of their study “suggest that gun shows do not increase the number of homicides or suicides and that the absence of gun show regulations does not increase the number of gun-related deaths as proponents of these regulations suggest.” The inference was that the 87% of Americans who want to close the Gun Show Loophole—which allows private individuals to sell guns at these events without conducting background checks on purchasers–are misguided.

The National Rifle Association was ecstatic, and claimed that the study “obliterates Anti-Gunners’ claims” that gun shows are “totally unregulated arms bazaars.”

The NRA’s victory dance might have been a tad premature, however. Just last week, researchers from five universities across America sent the study’s authors a formal and public letter. They had examined the study’s methodology and found it deeply flawed. Two of their main criticisms were as follows:

The geographic and time restrictions in the study reflected a poor understanding of illegal gun markets. The study only looked at gun-related deaths within a 25-mile radius of a gun show, despite evidence that a large portion of crime guns recovered are purchased either out-of-state (19.3% and 27.7%, respectively, for Texas and California in 2007) or in-state but not in the immediate vicinity (For Dallas and Los Angeles in 2000, only half of traced crime guns were recovered within 25 miles of their point of initial sale). Furthermore, the study only looked at gun-related deaths in the four weeks immediately following a gun show. In Texas and California, however, the average time from a gun’s sale to its recovery following use in crime was 9.8 and 12.9 years, respectively, in 2007.

The study failed to account for every gun show in California and Texas. The study used just one publication, the Gun and Knife Show Calendar, to identify gun shows in the two states. Additional listings in publications like the Big Show Journal, however, indicate that the study’s authors failed to identify roughly 20% of the gun shows that occurred in California and Texas during the study period.

The NRA might have also missed a story that came out of Texas just two weeks ago. Gregorio Martinez, a convicted felon, was arrested at the Bell County Gun Show in Texas after attempting to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle. Criminals don’t shop at gun shows? Martinez didn’t get the gun lobby memo. Nor did the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which has confirmed that gun shows are the second leading source of illegally diverted firearms in the United States (behind only corrupt federally licensed dealers).


  1. "The NRA might have also missed a story that came out of Texas just two weeks ago. Gregorio Martinez, a convicted felon, was arrested at the Bell County Gun Show in Texas after attempting to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle."

    So in other words, Gregorio Martinez was caught and arrested as a result of the so called "loophole". He fell through the "gun show loophole" and landed in prison.

    It seems to me this confirms what the NRA has been saying: That the laws for gun shows are the same as the laws anywhere else, and that when criminals try to break them, there are consequences.

  2. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. Martinez was not arrested as a result of the Gun Show Loophole. The Gun Show Loophole allows private sellers at gun shows to sell firearms to other individuals without conducting background checks or maintaining any record of these sales. Any private seller at a gun show who sells a gun(s) to a convicted felon (or any other prohibited purchaser) in this manner is within the law.

    Martinez was arrested that day because an off-duty officer who had arrested him previously happened to be at the show. That was a stroke of luck, not a planned law enforcement operation.

    In fact, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobbaco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) only conducts investigative operations at 2% of the approximately 5,000 gun shows that occur in the United States each year. - CSGV

  3. Martinez was arrested only after he was rejected from a vendor while attempting to buy a gun. Sounds like getting a gun at a gun show isn't as easy as it seems, even without the ATF present.

    The fact still remains that the laws at gun shows are no different then the laws anywhere else. FFL dealers still need to do backgrounds checks at gun shows, while private sellers do not, just as they do not need to perform them anywhere else. A gun show has no effect on these laws. Call it the "private sale loophole" if you want, but there is really no reason to single out gun shows over it.

  4. thestaplegunkid9, the licensed gun dealer who denied Martinez and the off-duty officer who identified him and tipped local police off definitely deserve great credit in this case. Sadly, we know that criminals aren't always stopped in this manner, as ATF has identified gun shows as the second leading source of of illegally diverted firearms in the United States.

    As for private sales, you are right. They can occur virtually anywhere, through a classified ad, over the Internet, at a gun show, across someone's kitchen table, etc. But we don't think that will comfort anyone who is concerned about these totally unregulated gun sales.

    As for gun shows specifically, they are a logical place to start in regulating private sales, given the high volume of firearms that are transferred at these events. - CSGV

  5. All the same, using the term "gun show loophole" is deceptive because it implies that the laws for gun shows are different then the laws for anywhere else, which is not the case.

  6. thestaplegunkid9, we don't see anything in those three words that implies any such thing. The term itself only implies that some type of loophole exists at gun shows. That it is true.

    Your argument is a popular one with the gun lobby, and seems to be an effort to distract the public from the real issue at unhand, which is totally unregulated private gun sales. But the argument itself is a curious one - because no one is likely to feel better about the situation knowing that gun sales are occurring without background checks not only at gun shows, but virtually anywhere one could imagine in many states. - CSGV