An interactive investigation by CNN shines a spotlight on how criminals exploit loopholes in the background check system by buying guns from unlicensed sellers, and then using those guns to commit crimes. Specifically, the CNN investigation traces the path traveled by guns that were sold by an unlicensed seller at a Nevada gun show, without a background check, and then used in a shooting in California.
Nevada has since passed a law to require background checks on all gun sales, including sales by unlicensed sellers arranged online and at gun shows.
Last month, the U.S. House passed H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would require background checks on all gun sales, including unlicensed sales, across the country.
“A CNN investigation into the unregulated sale of firearms found that unlicensed dealers flout the nation’s gun laws and provide a steady flow of weapons to [shooters], who are either barred from owning guns, or want guns that can’t be traced back to them.
“Unlicensed dealers are difficult to detect, tough to prosecute, and often receive lenient sentences even when convicted, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former federal agents and prosecutors across the country.
“‘I know from my own personal experience as an investigator that a lot of firearms that I’ve seen recovered in violent crimes have come through the hands of unlicensed dealers,’ said Thomas Chittum, a veteran agent and top supervisor at the headquarters for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington, DC.
“‘Some get prosecuted,’ Chittum said. ‘I would say most do not.’
“At the heart of the problem is a vaguely worded federal statute that has frustrated efforts by law enforcement to combat the problem of illegal gun dealing, and effectively helps sustain a marketplace for black market gun sales. The law is fuzzy on the distinction between a casual seller of firearms who is not required to conduct background checks on prospective buyers and a gun dealer, who is.
“It’s a problem that law enforcement officials and gun control advocates say would be greatly mitigated by the passage of proposed universal background check legislation that passed in the House last month. The issue could come up in the Senate next week, when the judiciary committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on another gun control measure.”