Protecting Gun Shows : It's Time for Some Self-Regulation

By Jeff Knox

Anyone who does not hold an FFL and sells a firearm to someone he doesn't know well is incurring a certain amount of liability. And, a bit of bad judgment could cause trouble not just for the seller, but for the rest of the gun owning community as well.

There is no question that individuals have the right to buy, sell, and trade firearms between themselves without government infringement. But there are laws on the books and failing to know and follow them is just asking for trouble. A prudent trader will take into account not only the legal technicalities, but the political environment also.

Title 18, Section 922 of the U.S. Code, the 1968 Gun Control Act, covers sales and transfer of guns. The law forbids transfers between residents of different states except through an FFL in the buyer's state. Of course it is also illegal for a federally "prohibited person" – a felon, fugitive, someone dishonorably discharged from the service, etc. – to purchase a firearm from anyone, FFL dealer or not. If the seller has any indication that the prospective buyer is a "prohibited person," selling the gun is a crime. It is also illegal for anyone to purchase a firearm on behalf of someone else – even if that someone else could legally purchase it himself – and a seller can again be held criminally responsible if they had any indication that such a "straw" transaction was taking place.

Any sale in violation of the 1968 Gun Control Act and its subsequent amendments exposes traders to serious criminal liability – as much as five years and $5,000 for every violation. And when those sales happen at a gun show it does grave harm to the gun show industry and the entire Second Amendment movement.

Given the legislative threats and the political climate – with Bloomberg and his anti-gun mayors, the Brady Bunch, and various reporters and other scoundrels routinely targeting gun shows with hidden cameras and sting operations – it is wise for traders and gun show promoters to engage in some self-regulation to keep the government from coming in and doing the regulating for us. The trick is to solve, or at least mitigate the problem without creating worse problems in the process.

As with most problems, the solution here begins with education, so smart gun show promoters are making an effort to make sure that everyone selling at their shows understands the basics of the laws. The next step is procedural: Making sure sellers always ask the tough questions and get clear answers. Some promoters are solving that problem with a simple form issued to non-FFL sellers. A good form is like an abbreviated 4473. It informs the buyer of the legal requirements while it asks them disqualifying questions and collects identifying information. The seller keeps the part with the drivers license number and signature, the buyer gets a part with the sellers ID as a receipt, and the gun show checks receipts at the door. Nobody else gets a copy. By mandating use of such forms gun show promoters protect themselves and their business as well as providing some legal cover for their sellers. Since there is no government involvement and no centralized storage of records, the privacy of both buyer and seller are also protected.

Most sellers won't make a sale if they catch a hint of impropriety, and smart sellers always take down the buyer's drivers license information as a precaution. But not all sellers are that prudent. A foolish few think they are "safe" if they take a "don't ask, don't tell" approach, avoiding any question of the buyers' legal status and studiously not noticing if the buyer says something that might indicate ineligibility. They delude themselves. Even though it is highly unlikely that a buyer is breaking the law or that a particular gun will ever be remotely connected to a crime, that rare exception can not just ruin your day, it can ruin your decade, and provide ammo to the enemy. Anyone making a private sale to anyone they don't know well should always get a signed statement of eligibility and a drivers license number. Buyers should be concerned about identifying the seller as well, just in case.

The public's lack of understanding of the so-called gun show loophole issue, and the complexity of trying to explain it, has placed gun shows and all private transactions in the political crosshairs. If gun show promoters, exhibitors, and attendees don't accelerate efforts to mitigate the issue, the gun shows – and all private transfers – could be just a fond memory in the not too distant future.

Permission to reprint or post this article in its entirety is hereby granted provided this credit is included. Text is available at

Help us fight for your rights!

Become a member of Buckeye Firearms Association and support our grassroots efforts to defend and advance YOUR RIGHTS!

Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter

Get weekly news and instant alerts on the latest laws and politics that affect your gun rights. Enjoy cutting-edge commentary. Be among the first to hear about gun raffles, firearms training, and special events. Read more.

We respect your privacy and your email address will be kept confidential.


Buckeye Firearms Association is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending and advancing the right of citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities, including self-defense, hunting, competition, and recreation. Read more.