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To Private Gun Sellers: Don’t Ask, Don’t Sell

By Colin and Andy Goddard

We never knew it could be so easy. We imagine that if most Americans understood how easy it is, they would be outraged and they would want this system to be changed.

We Goddard men had handled and fired guns at ranges, while hunting, and for Colin during Basic Rifleman Marksmanship training during his ROTC days. But prior to 2009, neither of us had been to a gun show.

In 2009, we made our first trip. We had seen an ABC News 20/20segment featuring Omar Samaha, the brother of Reema Samaha, who was killed in the same Virginia Tech class where Colin was shot four times April 16th.

Omar was challenged to go to a gun show in Virginia and buy as many guns with cash as he could. He bought more than 10 guns in an hour – all from private sellers, without leaving a trace – no background check, no paper signed, no ID displayed.

Federally licensed firearm dealers (FFLs), those engaged in the business of selling firearms for profit on a regular basis, are required to conduct Brady criminal background checks on anyone to whom they sell a firearm, regardless of where the sale takes place. Private sellers, those allegedly selling guns as part of their “collection”, can sell guns with or without conducting background checks. Most, we found, disregard background checks.

Our turn came to test this system that puts so many lives at risk. Before getting inside, we often saw lots of cars in the parking lot with license plates from various states. The law says guns can only be bought and sold by people living within the state that hosts the show.

Some shows had fewer than a hundred tables set up, others more than a thousand. We found a wide range of firearms, from handguns, rifles, shotguns, antiques, muzzle-loaders to military weapons, and even the big ol’ .50 Cal sniper rifles. Certain military weapons made us stop and wonder: “Is that really sold to the general public?”

As we walked the aisles, it was easy to determine who was a licensed dealer and who was a private seller. Clipboards of background check forms (4473s) and computer/phone set-ups to run them pointed out the licensed sellers. The guys – and we saw only men — walking around with signs on their backs were a good indication of an easy buy. Occasionally there would be a placard on the table advertising for “private sale”.

The transactions we saw from private sellers were quick: a few words, a price negotiation, and an exchange of a gun for cash.

When we tried to buy, we found private sellers generally charged more than FFLs for their model of the same gun. As one private seller told us, “There’s no tax, no paperwork, that’s gotta be worth something.” For the customers whom we all agree shouldn’t have guns because of their dangerous backgrounds — that’s a cost sellers know they are willing to bear. Soon we learned the go-to term: “Cash and Carry.”

To share our shocking gun show experiences with other Americans, Colin worked with the Brady Campaign and went to gun shows in Virginia where he lived and to other states where friends lived. After a summer of traveling and videotaping the transactions, the video was posted online.

The gun lobby claims there is no “gun show loophole”. The law governing the sale of guns by licensed dealers and private sellers was crafted so that dealers are required to perform background checks and private sellers are not. Some gun rights advocates argue that if something is intentional, it can’t be called a loophole.

But the exemption for private sellers was intended to cover occasional sales from personal gun collections, a father selling a gun to his son-in-law, for example, not regular sales that supplement income. Virginia law uses the language, “occasional sales of curios and relics.” Many of the private sellers sold new, or very recently manufactured, guns — hardly curios or relics.

This system, this loophole, makes it too incredibly easy for felons, domestic violence abusers, those underage (like the Columbine shooters) and the mentally ill, who are disqualified by law from owning a gun, to get a gun.

Closing the gun show loophole would hold every seller to the same standard. They would all issue the same 4473 forms and run the same Brady criminal background checks, 95 percent of which are completed in 5 minutes. And since FFLs started doing background checks in 1994, 1.9 million prohibited, dangerous people have been prevented from buying guns from them.

Any responsible American should want to know that the weapon he’s making money from won’t be put in the hands of someone who is known to be dangerous.

We challenge all of America’s private sellers out there: If you don’t ask someone to do a background check first, then don’t sell them the gun. Don’t ask, don’t sell.


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