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One big glaring hole in the system of background checks for gun purchases is what is commonly referred to as “the gun loophole.” You’ve probably heard debates on TV about closing this loophole.

What is the gun loophole?

The so-called “gun loophole” refers to an aspect of the Brady Bill that exempts private or person-to-person transactions from the background check requirement. There are also individual state laws that may exempt certain purchases – such as those that occur at gun shows – because requiring buyers at a gun show who are there for a one-day event could potentially kill the industry altogether. So it’s not so much a single loophole as a patchwork of holes in existing laws that make it easy for anyone to purchase a gun without undergoing the typical background check. For example…

  • Purchases at gun shows and trade shows are often exempt from the background check requirement, even for new guns, though this varies state by state. (Some have passed legislation to close this loophole.)

  • All private sales or gun trades are exempted from the background check requirement.

  • Online sales are exempt from background checks unless the seller is a licensed dealer. There are many websites that specialize as online marketplaces for firearms – think e-Bay for guns. This basically allows person-to-person transactions to take place in a forum that is essentially the world’s largest gun store. Needless to say, such sites have become an easy way for criminals to bypass the background check process.

  • Gifted or inherited guns are not subject to background checks.

The Effects & Consequences of the Gun Loophole

This leaves a lot of ways for people to work around the system, which is exactly how the gun lobby prefers it. “People who know they can’t pass a background check can find someone selling a gun, meet them in a parking lot, and exchange the gun for cash with no questions asked,” says Elizabeth Avore, legal director for the gun-violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety. “The seller is doing nothing illegal. That’s a valid sale – and a glaring loophole.” (Welch, 2016)

Just how big is this loophole? An analysis of how people obtain their guns conducted by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that around 40% of all gun transactions fall under a category that is not subjected to background checks. (Pearlstein, 2016) It’s a loophole so wide that nearly half of all gun transactions slide through it.

There’s no doubt that this gun loophole has deadly consequences. The three guns used in the Columbine massacre had been purchased at a gun show, enabling the underage killers to take advantage of this loophole. Even scarier still, in the aftermath of 9/11, soldiers in Afghanistan came upon a jihadist training manual instructing Al Qaeda operatives living in the U.S. on how to take advantage of these loopholes to “obtain an assault weapon, preferably an Ak-47 or a variation,” legally and without raising suspicion. (Dickinson, 2013A)

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