I-Team: Debate Heats Up Over Sales at Gun Shows

Ed. Note: The national debate about gun violence and gun control has generated strong emotions on all sides following the recent tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado. Should Americans' Second Amendment rights be restricted in the interests of public safety, or is gun violence something that no law could curb? This is Part 5 of Guns of Nevada.

LAS VEGAS -- Of all the gun legislation currently on the table, universal background checks seem the most likely to pass. The proposal would close the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all gun sales.

In southern Nevada, where gun shows are as frequent as sporting events, the proposal is driving discussion and sales.

There is wide debate about whether guns sold without background checks truly impact crime. Some research suggests that crooks are more likely to get guns from the streets than from a gun show. However, that doesn't mean weapons sold at gun shows don't end up at violent crime scenes. For example, the 2010 fatal shooting at the federal courthouse in Las Vegas.

The line gathers before dawn. Tens of thousands crowd into the Las Vegas Gun Show. Many are there to arm themselves in reaction to the President's gun law proposals.

"I think Obama is the best gun salesman in America," said show promoter Claude Hall.

The event hosts a mix of licensed firearms dealers and unlicensed private sellers like retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gary O'Neal who recently found out he has a serious medical diagnosis.

"I'm trying to get rid of all of these before I die so my wife doesn't have to," he said.

During his 74 years, O'Neal has amassed a personal collection of some three dozen rifles, pistols and semi-automatic military-style weapons.

"This is a scary gun, it looks scary," he said.

As a private seller, under federal law, he need only verify that a potential buyer is a Nevada resident. No background check is required.

O'Neal asks a potential buyer if he has a driver's license. When the potential buyer learns that O'Neal will do a background check, he thanks him and leaves.

Unlike most private sellers at the show, O'Neal has arranged for background checks with a licensed dealer on-site.

"I don't want a criminal to have a gun. I don't think there should be any restrictions on law abiding citizens. I should be able to own a scary-looking gun if I want to. It's the criminal I don't want to have the gun," O'Neal said.

But gun control advocates insist private sales provide a dangerous loophole for felons, the mentally ill and other prohibited persons to get guns. To illustrate the issue, in 2009, the city of New York launched a multi-state undercover investigation showing guns being sold to undercover investigators who told the sellers they couldn't pass a background check.

"No tax, cash and carry. $500 and it's yours," the seller told the undercover investigator.

Although private sellers are not required to do a background check, federal law prohibits them from selling to anyone they have reason to believe cannot legally buy a gun. The 2009 investigation found 19 out of 30 sellers, or 63 percent, were willing to arm someone who couldn't pass a background check.

A second sting in 2011 in Arizona had similar results. It took place two weeks after the mass shooting in Tucson that killed six and wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others.

"I think there should be background checks for all firearms purchases," said gun control advocate Brian Fadie, ProgressNow Nevada. "We are not supporting taking away people's guns. We are just supporting some common sense barriers to deter the easy access to firearms that we have right now."

An exclusive 8 News NOW poll finds that 76 percent of Nevadans surveyed support a background check on all gun sales. Count O'Neal among them.

"I'm ok with that, as long as there's an exception for family members. I don't want to have to get a background check if I want to give my daughter this calico model 100," O'Neal said. "I don't want to sell a gun to a prohibited person. It's as simple as that."

A family member exception for the universal background check is part of the discussion on Capitol Hill. Some opponents of the plan object to the cost of the background check equating it with a tax on gun purchases.

In Nevada, a background check will cost $25 which is among the more expensive fees nationally.

 


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