Houston gun show at the George R. Brown Convention Center in March 2007

In the United States, a gun show is an event where promoters generally rent large public venues and then rent tables for display areas for dealers of guns and related items, and charge admission for buyers.[1] The majority of guns for sale at gun shows are modern sporting firearms.[1] Approximately 5,000 gun shows occur annually in the United States.

Venues and attendance

An advertisement for a gun show

Gun shows are typically held in large public facilities such as arenas, fairgrounds, civic centers, and armories.[2] Show promoters charge vendors fees for display tables (from $20 to $145) and booths (from $200 to $400) and charge admission fees (from $5 to $50) for the public.[3]: 6  In addition to guns, ammunition, knives, militaria, books and other items are sold.[2]: 4–5 

In 2005, Michael Bouchard, Assistant Director/Field Operations of ATF, estimated that 5,000 gun shows take place each year in the United States.[4] Most gun shows have 2,500 to 15,000 attendees over a two-day period.[3] The number of tables at a gun show varies from as few as fifty to as many as 2,000.[5] At the largest gun shows, over 1,000 firearms are sold over two days.[3] In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that it found no definite numbers for U.S. gun shows, but said that estimates ranged from 2,000 to 5,200 a year.[3] In 1999, the ATF reported that 4,442 gun shows were advertised in 1998 in Gun Show Calendar.[2]: 4 


The largest gun show in the United States is the annual SHOT Show. Only trade professionals, such as buyers for retail stores or law enforcement agencies, are allowed entry. It has attracted over 60,000 attendees to its 630,000 square feet of exhibition space in Las Vegas. The show is sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group of firearms and hunting businesses. It is among the top 25 trade shows in the country.[6]


Under the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), firearm dealers with a Federal Firearms License (FFL) were prohibited from doing business at gun shows (they were only permitted to do business at the address listed on their license). That changed with the enactment of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA), which allows FFLs to transfer firearms at gun shows provided they follow the provisions of the GCA and other pertinent federal regulations. In 1999, ATF reported that between 50% and 75% of the vendors at gun shows had FFLs.[2] Only buyers from within the state may purchase handguns.[1]

Gun show loophole

Main article: Gun show loophole

The so-called "Gun show loophole" is a controversial political term in the United States coined by gun control supporters that refers to sales of firearms by private sellers, including those done at gun shows. Under federal law, private-party sellers are not required to perform background checks on buyers. Private sellers are also not required to record the sale or ask for identification. There are some Federal rules regarding the sales.[7] As of August 2013, 33 states do not require background checks for sales of firearms by private individuals, while 17 states and Washington, D.C., do require background checks for some or all private firearm sales.[8] This is in contrast to sales by gun stores and other Federal Firearms License holders, who are required by federal law to perform background checks of all buyers, and to record all sales, regardless of venue (i.e. private sales).

Research and studies

In 2000, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) published "Following the Gun", its analysis of more than 1,530 trafficking investigations over a two-and-a-half-year period and found gun shows to have the second highest number of trafficked guns per investigation, after corrupt FFL dealers. (Straw purchasers were the most common channel, but averaged a relatively small number of trafficked guns per investigation compared to corrupt FFLs and gun shows.)[9]: x–xi  These investigations involved a total of 84,128 firearms that had been diverted from legal to illegal commerce. All told, the report identified more than 26,000 firearms that had been illegally trafficked through gun shows in 212 separate investigations. The report stated that:

A prior review of ATF gun show investigations shows that prohibited persons, such as convicted felons and juveniles, do personally buy firearms at gun shows and gun shows are sources of firearms that are trafficked to such prohibited persons. The gun show review found that firearms were diverted at and through gun shows by straw purchasers, unregulated private sellers, and licensed dealers. Felons were associated with selling or purchasing firearms in 46 percent of the gun show investigations. Firearms that were illegally diverted at or through gun shows were recovered in subsequent crimes, including homicide and robbery, in more than a third of the gun show investigations.[9]: 17 

A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report on "Firearms Use by Offenders" found that only 0.8% of prison inmates reported acquiring firearms used in their crimes "At a gun show", with repeat offenders less likely than first-time offenders to report acquiring firearms from a retail source, gun show or flea market. This 2001 study examined data from a 1997 Department of Justice survey of more than 18,000 federal and state prison inmates in 1,409 State prisons and 127 Federal prisons.[10][11] The remaining 99.2% of inmates reported obtaining firearms from other sources, including "From a friend/family member" (36.8%), "Off the street/from a drug dealer" (20.9%), "From a fence/black market source" (9.6%), "From a pawnshop", "From a flea market", "From the victim", or "In a burglary". 9% of inmates replied "Don't Know/Other" to the question of where they acquired a firearm and 4.4% refused to answer.[11] The Department of Justice did not attempt to verify the firearms reported in the survey or trace them to determine their chain of possession from original retail sale to the time they were transferred to the inmates surveyed (in cases where inmates were not the original retail purchaser).[citation needed]

Garen Wintemute, a professor of emergency room medicine and director of UC Davis' Violence Prevention Research Program, released a study in 2007 which held that gun shows are a venue for illegal activity, including straw purchases and unlicensed sales to prohibited individuals.[12]

In 2011, economists Mark Duggan and Randi Hjalmarsson at the University of Maryland and Brian Jacob from the University of Michigan released a paper which stated that gun shows do not lead to substantial increases in either gun homicides or gun suicides.[13]

ATF criminal investigations at gun shows

From 2004 to 2006, ATF conducted surveillance and undercover investigations at 195 gun shows (approximately 2% of all shows). Specific targeting of suspected individuals (77%) resulted in 121 individual arrests and 5,345 firearms seizures. Seventy nine of the 121 ATF operation plans were known suspects previously under investigation.[3]

Additionally, ATF Field Offices report that:

Regarding the trafficking of firearms from the U.S. into Mexico, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in June 2009 that stated:

While it is impossible to know how many firearms are illegally smuggled into Mexico in a given year, about 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced in the last 5 years originated in the United States, according to data from Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). According to U.S. and Mexican government officials, these firearms have been increasingly more powerful and lethal in recent years. Many of these firearms come from gun shops and gun shows in Southwest border states.[15]

The GAO report has been corroborated through other sources. William Newell, Special Agent in Charge of ATF's Phoenix Field Division, testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in March 2009, stating, "Drug traffickers are able to obtain firearms and ammunition more easily in the U.S., including sources in the secondary market such as gun shows and flea markets. Depending on State law, the private sale of firearms at those venues often does not require record keeping or background checks prior to the sale."[16] The ATF has also reported that, "Trends indicate the firearms illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are becoming more powerful. ATF has analyzed firearms seizures in Mexico from FY 2005–07 and identified the following weapons most commonly used by drug traffickers: 9mm pistols; .38 Super pistols; 5.7mm pistols; .45-caliber pistols; AR-15 type rifles; and AK-47 type rifles."[17] However, this is based only on the weapons sent to the ATF to be traced, a small portion of all firearms seized by the Mexican government, and the extent to which they are representative of all seized firearms is disputed. According to Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, "Mexico's southern border with Guatemala has long been an entry point for such weapons and today could account for 10 to 15 percent coming through."[18] William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott have described Mexico as a "virtual arms bazaar", where one can purchase a wide variety of military weapons from international sources: "fragmentation grenades from South Korea, AK-47s from China, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers from Spain, Israel and former Soviet bloc manufacturers."[19] In addition, they say that Mexican drug cartels have long-established drug- and gun-running ties with Latin American revolutionary movements such as Colombia's FARC.[19] Further, China has supplied military arms to Latin America and Chinese-made assault weapons have been recovered in Mexico, according to Amnesty International.[19] Finally, the Mexican army has seen rampant desertion rates (150,000 in the last six years) and many soldiers have taken their weapons home with them, including Belgian-made M16s.[19]

It is difficult to legally acquire fully automatic firearms at American gun shows (as opposed to the semiautomatic-only versions of these firearms that are legal on the U.S. civilian market), due to National Firearms Act (NFA).[citation needed] To legally purchase or transfer a fully automatic firearm, U.S. citizens must pay a $200 transfer tax, submit a full set of fingerprints on FBI Form FD-258, obtain certification provided by a chief law enforcement officer ("CLEO": the local chief of police, sheriff of the county, head of the State police, or State or local district attorney or prosecutor), and obtain final approval from the BATF on a Form 4 transfer of NFA registration to the new owner.[20][21] All private citizens must wait, typically months, before receiving the tax stamp for the $200 tax paid, authorizing taking possession of the already paid-for fully automatic firearm. Until in receipt of the tax stamp, the Class III dealer retains control of the fully automatic firearm. In addition, only fully automatic firearms manufactured before the Firearm Owner's Protection Act of 1986 are permitted to be transferred. No fully automatic firearms recovered in Mexico have been traced to the United States.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Vizzard, William J. (2012). "Gun Shows". In Carter, Greg Lee (ed.). Guns in American Society: G-Q. Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture and the Law. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 509–511. ISBN 978-0-313-38671-8.
  2. ^ a b c d "Gun Shows: Brady Checks and Crime Gun Traces" (PDF). Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). January 1999. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Investigative Operations at Gun Shows" (PDF). justice.gov. U.S. Department of Justice. June 2007. I-2007-007.
  4. ^ a b "Oversight of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Part 2: Gun Show Enforcement" (PDF). Hearings before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, 109th Congress, 2d Session, February 28, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 27, 2007. Retrieved October 26, 2007.
  5. ^ "Gun Shows: Brady Checks and Crime Gun Traces" (PDF). Washington, DC: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
  6. ^ Valentine, Matt (Sep 12, 2013). "The Gun Lobbying Group You Don't Hear About". The Atlantic.
  7. ^ "Top 10 Frequently Asked Firearms Questions and Answers", Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Retrieved August 1, 2015.
  8. ^ "Universal Background Checks & the Private Sale Loophole Policy Summary". Smart Gun Laws. Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. August 21, 2013. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
  9. ^ a b "Following the Gun" (PDF). Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). June 2000. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2003-03-31.
  10. ^ Caroline Wolf Harlow, Firearm Use by Offenders (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Nov. 6, 2001)
  11. ^ a b "US Department of Justice, Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, Firearm Use By Offenders" (PDF). DoJ.
  12. ^ Wintemute, Garen J. (2007). "Gun shows across a multistate American gun market: observational evidence of the effects of regulatory policies". Injury Prevention. 13 (3): 150–155. doi:10.1136/ip.2007.016212. PMC 2598366. PMID 17567968.
  13. ^ Duggan, Mark; Hjalmarsson, Randi; Jacob, Brian (2011). "The Short-Term and Localized Effect of Gun Shows: Evidence from California and Texas". Review of Economics and Statistics. 93 (3): 786–799. doi:10.1162/REST_a_00120. S2CID 49554850.
  14. ^ "U.S. Guns Behind Cartel Killings in Mexico". Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post. October 29, 2007. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  15. ^ "Firearms Trafficking: U.S. Efforts to Combat Arms Trafficking to Mexico Face Planning and Coordination Challenges" (PDF). gao.gov. United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). June 2009. GAO-09-709. Retrieved June 24, 2014.
  16. ^ "Statement of William Newell, Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division of the ATF, Before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies" (PDF). U.S. House Appropriations Committee. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-08-05. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  17. ^ "ATF Fact Sheet: Project Gunrunner [September 2008]". Homeland Security Digital Library. 2008-08-31.[dead link]
  18. ^ Jonsson, Patrik; Llana, Sara Miller (April 8, 2009). "Are Mexican drug traffickers armed with US guns?". Christian Science Monitor.
  19. ^ a b c d e La Jeunesse, William; Lott, Maxim (April 2, 2009). "The Myth of 90 Percent: Only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From U.S." FOXNews.com. Archived from the original on 2009-07-21.
  20. ^ "(M15) What are the required transfer procedures for an individual who is not qualified as a manufacturer, importer, or dealer of NFA firearms?". Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 1996. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-4289-5186-0.
  21. ^ "(M18) What law enforcement officials' certifications on an application to transfer or make an NFA weapon are acceptable to ATF?". Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 2005. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-4289-5186-0.

Further reading