Last month, Jared Lee Loughner shot 19 people in Tuscon, AZ — including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), a federal judge, and a nine-year-old girl — with a semi-automatic pistol equipped with a previously illegal high-capacity magazine. Only days later, a Crossroads of the West gun show was held in Phoenix, and investigators from New York City were on hand to see if they could purchase guns and high-capacity magazines without background checks. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R/I) announced the findings at a news conference today: indeed, the investigators got their weapons easily.
Bloomberg played the disturbing videos at the press conference — first showing a gun purchase with no background check, and then showing a purchase of a gun even after the undercover investigator told the vendor “I probably couldn’t pass” a background check — and then blasted gun show sellers who “continue to flout the law” by selling weapons to people who “have no business buying them.” Bloomberg said the footage highlights the need for a “better system that respects the Second Amendment while upholding the laws designed to protect innocent Americans.” Watch it:
Federal laws require guns to be sold by licensed dealers that must record the sales and perform background checks. However, exemptions in the law intended to allow private citizens to sell or transfer a small amount of guns are frequently exploited by large gun shows, where “private sellers” have large amounts of guns for sale, with no background checks. (Bloomberg noted that in a similar sting in 2009, one “private seller” was found to have a 800-weapon inventory). Bloomberg called for Congress to close these loopholes and require background checks for each gun sale, and for gun shows to begin enforcing these standards anyway in the meantime. “Congress should act now, but gun show operators shouldn’t wait,” he said. “They can do the right thing today by making sure that every gun sale at their shows is subject to a background check.”
Bloomberg also wants “resources and leadership to enhance enforcement of existing gun laws.” Even under the current lax regulations, when the undercover investigator suggested he would not pass a background check, the vendor should have immediately terminated the sale. Federal law prohibits gun sales where the vendor “knows” or “has reason to believe” the buyer would not pass a background check, but Bloomberg’s investigators demonstrated this often does not happen. (In the 2009 investigation, 19 of 30 sellers made the sale after the buyer raised a red flag about himself). “We have demonstrated how easy it is for anyone to buy a semiautomatic handgun and a high-capacity magazine, no questions asked,” Bloomberg said.
A former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms spoke at the press conference, and said that ATF “doesn’t have the resources or the leadership it needs to cut down on this crime for good.” Broken U.S. Senate rules and relentless lobbying from the National Rifle Association have kept the ATF without a director since 2006. This morning, ATF officials told the Washington Post that budget cuts proposed by the White House “would effectively eliminate a major initiative in the fight against firearms trafficking on the Mexican border.”