Shotgun News, December 1, 2008, pp. 20-21

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The Gun Show Loophole

Tired of Presidential politics? Me too. As I write this, it is October 11, 2008, and the ranting and raving of the campaign has me so frustrated. I wish that I could get wildly enthusiastic about John McCain, but he keeps making Democrat Lite noises: voting for the big bailout and then proposing another $300 billion in spending to have the federal government buy up mortgages.

On the plus side: he’s not Barack Hussein Obama! As the campaign has developed, more and more worrisome details about Obama’s radical past have appeared. Even more curious, a Democratic gadfly in Pennsylvania filed suit claiming that Obama was not born in the United States—and is thus ineligible to be President. And the response of Obama’s attorneys was not, “Here’s a certified copy of his Hawaii birth certificate,” but instead they argued that the gadfly lacked legal standing to file such a suit!1

Obama now has endorsements from the Communist Party USA,2 Fidel Castro,3 North Korea,4 and Louis Farrakhan5—something of a “We Hate America” Hall of Fame. You can see why Americans are going for him in such a big way.

But enough bad news (and maybe we’ll dodge a bullet on Election Day). By the time you read this column, the election will be over—and as things now stand, the news media will be bowing down to worship before the throne of President Obama Messiah. This column is devoted to another issue: gun show sales.

Gun control advocates believe—without any question or hesitation—that gun shows are a major source of illegally used guns. While the vast majority of the people that I have met at gun shows seem like completely decent people, I confess that there have been some attendees who made me a little nervous. I found myself wondering, “If you were buying a gun from a dealer, would you pass the background check?” There have been guns used in horrendous crimes that were purchased at gun shows—such as some of the guns used by Klebold and Harris in the mass murder at Columbine High School in 1999. But one data point, or even two or three, does not tell us all that much.

The evidence, for the most part, is that gun shows are not a major source of criminally misused guns. A 2001 Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that only 0.7% of state prison inmates who had owned a gun acquired it at a gun show. I confess that I am a bit surprised by that. If I wanted to obtain a gun without a background check or any paperwork, a gun show would certainly be one possible source. (Perhaps criminals aren’t this smart.) Yet, there is now a new study out that suggests that gun shows are not a problem—at least, not a problem that can be measured.

The authors are Mark Duggan and Randi Hjalmarsson of the University of Maryland and Brian A. Jacob of the University of Michigan. The study examined when gun shows took place in California and Texas, and then looked for evidence that homicides or suicides increased in the aftermath of those gun shows. California, as you probably know, closed the “gun show loophole” some years ago, and prohibits nearly all firearms transfers except through a licensed dealer or police department. Texas on the other hand, is in America!

The methodology of the study is quite interesting. They examined homicide and suicide statistics for the week following gun shows in the surrounding zip codes, and compared this data to weeks when no gun show took place. They found that in California, there was a statistically significant increase in gun suicides in the week following a gun show—but it was very small. In each of the years 1994 through 2004, they concluded that the entire state of California experienced four additional gun suicides because of gun shows—but they also acknowledged that “this increase is offset entirely by an almost identical decline in the number of non-gun suicides, suggesting that gun shows influence the method but not the number of suicides.” Gun shows don’t increase the number of suicides; they just change the method. (This is consistent with a number of other studies done over the years, which show that gun control changes the method of suicide, not the result.) They also found, “no evidence to suggest that gun shows increased the number of homicides in California during our study period.”6

Texas, which has effectively no gun show sale regulation, was even more curious. Again, they found a statistically significant effect from gun shows, but they found “that in the two weeks following a gun show, the average number of gun homicides declines in the area surrounding the gun show. Aggregating across all gun shows in the state, we find that there are approximately 16 fewer gun homicides resulting from the 200 gun shows in the average year.” And they found no statistically significant effect on suicides or non-gun homicides from gun shows.

The authors emphasized that this reduction, while statistically significant, was extremely small.7 But at a minimum, this study creates a major problem for gun control advocates who argue that the “gun show loophole” is a public safety problem.

I am very impressed with this study. The authors examined many possible explanations for the data—including that gun shows are disproportionately held in October and November,8 and perhaps the lower homicide rates reflect not the presence of gun shows, but that homicide rates are lower in fall and winter than they are summer.

So, what should we do with this information? First of all, the reduction in homicide rates in Texas is very, very small—at most, a 1% reduction caused by gun shows. I can see why it might be tempting for gun rights activists to argue that every county in America should have a gun show every week to drive down murder rates! I rather suspect that whatever mechanism seems to be at work here—it isn’t likely to survive making gun shows an every weekend event.

We can, however, point to this study the next time that someone insists that the gun show loophole needs to be closed—and even better, one of the authors of this study, Mark Duggan, is no friend to gun owners. Some of Duggan’s previous work has argued that increasing gun ownership increases homicide rates, and he is no friend to John Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime” hypothesis.9

I recommend that you go and obtain a copy of that paper—because after the next tragedy involving a gun (and I guarantee that one will happen), the gun control crazies will be demanding that we “close the gun show loophole,” and I’m sure President Obama will be overjoyed at the opportunity to oblige them. Having a copy of that paper to send to your elected representatives might be very useful.

Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer and historian. His sixth book, Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie (Nelson Current, 2006), is available in bookstores. His web site is

1 MOTION to Dismiss filed by BARACK OBAMA, THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE.Brief and Certificate of Service, September 24, 2008, Berg v. Obama et al.,, last accessed October 9, 2008.

2 Communist Party USA, “Editorial: Eye on the Prize,” July 15, 2008,, last accessed October 11, 2008.

3 Leslie Hoffecker, “An endorsement no candidate wants: Fidel favors Barack,”, last accessed October 11, 2008.

4 “Obama gets another unwanted endorsement,” One Free Korea, June 22, 2008,, last accessed October 11, 2008.

5 “Farrakhan on Obama: 'The Messiah is absolutely speaking',” World Net Daily, October 9, 2008,, last accessed October 11, 2008.

6 Mark Duggan, Randi Hjalmarsson, and Brian A. Jacobs, “The Effect of Gun Shows on Gun-Related Deaths: Evidence from California and Texas,” 3,, last accessed October 11, 2008.

7 Ibid., 4.

8 Ibid., 18-19.

9 Mark Duggan, “More Guns, More Crime,” (October 2000), NBER Working Paper No. W7967,

available at SSRN:, last accessed October 11, 2008.