Undercover operation reveals how gun buyers can legally avoid background checks

By Sahil Kapur
Monday, January 31, 2011 9:06 EDT
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WASHINGTON – Arizona gun show dealers sold firearms to undercover cops who openly admitted they wouldn’t be able to pass a background check, according to a revealing operation conducted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office.

The report, obtained by the New York Times, detailed multiple instances where dealers at Arizona gun shows sold weapons — legally — to buyers who confided that they probably weren’t fit under the law to own a firearm.

Two undercover New York cops told their respective dealers, “I probably couldn’t pass a background check,” but were sold guns anyway. A third official bought a Glock pistol along with two high-capacity ammunition magazines, which were like those used by 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner in the Tucson killings.

The revelation came three weeks after a shooting spree in Tucson killed six and wounded thirteen, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), exposing a significant gap in gun laws and shedding light on long-running efforts by local and national lawmakers to close the “gun show loophole” that permits such actions.

Although prospective gun buyers are required to pass a federal background check when purchasing from a licensed retailer, private and unlicensed sellers can legally pawn off their firearms at gun shows without vetting their customers.

A bill introduced this month by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) would close the loophole, but its prospects remain uncertain. In 2009, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) tried and failed to pass a similar measure.

Gun control activists in recent years tried and failed to push the idea, a testament to the pro-gun lobby, which has vastly outspent its adversaries in lobbying Congress. The National Rifle Association maintains that no gun show loophole exists.

Bloomberg, a staunch advocate for stricter gun laws, enlisted allies following the Tucson shootings to release ads pressuring Congress to act on the issue. One of Bloomberg’s past media campaigns has sought to close the gun show loophole.

The Times offered one revealing transcript from the undercover report, where an investigator bought a pistol at a Phoenix gun show:

Investigator: “So, you’re not one of those, you know, dealer guys, right?”

Seller: “No. No tax, no form, you don’t have to do transfers or nothing.”

Investigator: “Yeah, yeah.”

Seller: “Just see an Arizona ID and that’s it with me.”

Investigator: “So no background check?”

Seller: “No.”

Investigator: “That’s good, because I probably couldn’t pass one, you know what I mean?”

The gun was sold for $500.

This video is from the Associated Press, published Monday, Jan. 31, 2011.

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