The gun show loophole and Chicago’s gun problem by William Olson, Schaumburg, IL

The streets of Chicago’s south and west sides are in crisis. Every day, people are gunned down on its streets on account of robbery, vendetta, accident, and turf war. How bad is it? Earlier this year, a man was shot and killed while washing his car in front of his home. Earlier this month, a man was shot while watering his yard.

Guns and big cities have had a long and troubled relationship for decades. In 1968, Congress passed the Gun Control Act (GCA), which mandated federal licenses for those “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, but not for private individuals who sold firearms infrequently. It also mandated that licensed firearm dealers maintain records of firearms sales, and that unlicensed people are prohibited by federal law from transferring, selling, trading, giving, transporting, or delivering a firearm to any other unlicensed person if they know or have reasonable cause to believe the buyer does not reside in the same State or is prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms. A problem, but one that pales when compared to what came next.

In 1986, Congress relaxed some controls of the GCA when it passed the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA), and permitted licensed firearm dealers to conduct business at gun shows. Specifically, FOPA made it legal for licensed gun dealers to make private sales, provided the firearm was transferred to the licensee’s personal collection at least one year prior to the sale. Hence, when a personal firearm is sold by a licensed dealer, no background check is required by federal law. This opened the floodgates for illegal gun traffickers.

But it gets worse. The licensed dealers still need to keep records of their sales and, if the gun is not a part of their private collection, perform a background check. But unlicensed “private” gun owners allowed to set up shop at gun shows are required to keep no records, perform no background checks, nor comply with any licensing authority, apart from being licensed owners themselves. These unlicensed dealers in effect leave no fingerprint on the transaction of a firearm. For about five bucks, anyone can gain admittance to a gun show in Northwest Indiana, flash a phony Indiana I.D, buy a few guns, and head back to Chicago.

Many of these gun shows are in the deep south, in places like Mississippi and Louisiana. From the heart of the Delta Blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi during one five year period, sold 301 guns that were traced to the city of Chicago. Closer to home and far more problematic, the chief source of illegal guns involved in crimes on the streets of Chicago are purchased less than an hour’s drive from the south loop. In a recent study with data spanning a six year period, it was discovered 3,824 guns taken off Chicago gang bangers were used in crimes that came from Indiana.

This problem hasn’t a comprehensive solution. There will always be demand for guns and a propensity to use them in violent acts. But a simple law that bars private gun sellers at gun shows, and requires every gun purchaser to undergo a background check, will help keep illegal guns off the streets of Chicago and other large cities.

Indiana can act alone, as it is the primary source of illegal guns in Chicago, but short of fixing the federal legislation, stemming the flow may be better addressed as part of a multi-state solution.


William Olson

Schaumburg, IL

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