Gun Show Vendors Still Selling to Shady Clients: Report

Stings were conducted at seven gun shows in Tennessee, Ohio and Nevada

By Jonathan Dienst
|  Wednesday, Oct 7, 2009  |  Updated 6:16 PM EDT
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Gun Show Vendors Still Selling to Shady Clients: Report

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New York City officials secretly videotaped dozens of firearm purchases they say were illegal at gun shows in states that have not closed a background-check loophole.

A $1.5 million sting operation by New York investigators secretly videotaped shady weapon sales at out-of-state gun shows, Mayor Bloomberg said Wednesday.

Private investigators hired by the city allegedly found gun merchants selling weapons to buyers who admitted they couldn't pass background checks or were illegal straw purchasers, the mayor said.

Using hidden cameras at seven gun shows in Tennessee, Ohio and Nevada this spring and summer, investigators found that 35 out of 47 weapons merchants made illegal sales, according to a 36-page report "Gun Show Undercover."

"This is a bright red flag for every responsible gun dealer," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today.

Bloomberg said he turned over the videotapes to Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms officials and will send them to Congress to push reform of the "gun show loophole" which allows weapons sales at these shows with scant oversight.

"We are not interested in shutting down gun shows, we just want to make them safe," Bloomberg said. ""This crackdown on sellers has nothing at all to do with the Second Amendment, it's about basic law enforcement."

He showed several videotapes of gun dealers apparently breaking the law as well as the few who upheld.  Included in the video clips were the nonchalant responses and even laughter from certain gun dealers when buyers -- actually undercover investigators -- volunteered that they would fail a background check.    

"Have you been bad?" said one seller,  "Well, I wouldn't either," said another, "I don't care," said a third.

In each purchase, an investigator showed interest in buying a gun, agreed on a price and then indicated that he probably could not pass a background check. Most sellers allowed the purchases anyway, responding in some cases by saying, "I couldn't pass one either,'' or "I don't care,'' according to the city's report.
    
Two assault rifles and 20 semiautomatic handguns were bought this way, the report said.
    
The 11 dealers who refused sales showed that they knew the law.
    
"Once you say that, I'm kind of obligated not to," said one law-abiding seller, according to the report. "I think that's what the rules are."
    
"Fact is, you done told me too much," said another who refused. "I wouldn't sell one to you at all."

The mayor says he has no lawsuits pending against the unlawful gun dealers but is "not ruling out any option."

Nine states, including New York, have passed laws to close the gun show loophole by requiring background checks on all handgun purchases at gun shows.

"I hope these videos will make Congress act, embarrass them into action," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

This is Bloomberg's second gun sting. Three years ago, his administration focused on illegal straw purchases at gun shops in  Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia that authorities believe were responsible for selling guns used in crimes in New York City. 

 Bloomberg brought a civil case against 27 gun dealers targeted in that 2006 investigation and of them, 20  are being monitored by a court-appointed special master.

This latest undercover operation took place from about May to August and cost city taxpayers $1.5 million. The city hired a team of 40 private investigators from an outside firm to make the purchases.

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