Bloomberg’s Sting in Detail

This kind of ties back in to my post about MAIG being a serious threat. But you can look at the PDF of Bloomberg’s gun show sting here, which shows considerable more detail than you’ll see in the video. It also evinces a knowledge of federal guns laws, and less of an attempt to hype gun shows as out of control arms bazaars for white supremacists and neo-nazis you often read from other gun control groups. Take this passage here:

For many Americans, gun shows are a family outing. For the gun enthusiast, there are a huge variety of guns – new and used long guns and handguns, historical curios or related accessories – and for the general shopper there are often other vendors selling clothing, books, or local crafts. The vast majority of vendors and customers at gun shows are law abiding citizens out to enjoy a day with others who share a common interest.

They then go on to make their case that unfortunately they are a significant source of guns for criminals, and it’s a compelling case, if you don’t take time to really understand what you’re looking at, the deceptions and distortions are very carefully hidden. In short, in reading the report with an open mind, I’m forced to admit this is the most compelling case against gun shows ever prepared by a group advocating for more gun control. But that’s not to say there aren’t deceptions and distortions, but those deceptions and distortions are very carefully hidden, and not obvious to a casual observer, even one fairly familiar with the gun culture and with some familiarity with federal gun laws.

The first distortion is in enhancing the scale of the problem.  If you move to page 16 of the report, you’ll note that they report that 22 out of 33 transactions or 67% with private sellers failed their criteria, and on page 20 you will notice that 16 out of 17, or 94% of dealer transactions failed their criteria.  But in their methods, note that they did not select a random sample of dealers of private sellers. They first looked for evidence of illegal activity before conducting their test buys:

Investigators chose private sellers to approach by looking for visual signs of engaging in the business without a license, including those selling large numbers of guns, those who appeared at multiple shows, and those selling guns with price tags and new in-the-box guns. Investigators also took note of conversations that private sellers had with customers and other sellers. They focused in particular on statements that the seller buys guns for resale, is reselling guns shortly after purchase, buys and sells a lot of guns, makes a lot of money on gun transactions, goes to gun shows frequently, or that additional kinds of guns other than those displayed are available.

Emphasis mine. In short, they observed for strong evidence of activity which was already against the law, and then approached the sellers to see if they’d be willing to engage in further activity that was a violation of the law. Not a surprise that many of them did. Their method for licensed dealers was no better:

Investigators chose FFLs to approach by watching for transactions exhibiting tell-tale signs of straw purchases. They also looked for licensed dealers engaging in business practices that rendered them vulnerable targets for gun traffickers, such as intermingling their private collections with their regular merchandise and employing a division of labor in which one clerk focuses on selling to customers while a completely different clerk oversees the paperwork.

Emphasis mine again. Intermingling their private collections with regular merchandise? Already illegal, and I don’t know any dealer who practices that. But in short, they spent their time looking for dealers who were already engaging in illegal activity, or for dealers who were suckers and engaging in poor business practices. But there was one dealer who denied the sale, and Bloomberg did include that in the report:

MALE DEALER #2 (MD2): Who’s buying what?
MD2: OK. Can you own a gun buddy?
MI: Absolutely
MD2: OK. Do you have a problem filling out a form? […]
MI: Alright, Yeah, no. I can’t. I’m, I’m…It’s not going to be my gun so I won’t fill out the form.
MD2: Well we won’t put anything in your name. We just want to make sure you’re a good guy.
MI: What form am I going to fill out then?
MD2: Same one she did.
MI: No, Well, I, I’m not going to do that, ‘cause the gun’s not for me.
MD2: Void it, baby.

Emphasis mine. The dealer deserves credit for smelling something fishy and stopping the sale, but the investigator is taking effort to convince the dealer than the sale is, in fact, legal and not a straw purchase. If the gun is not for him, and is in fact for her, it’s not a straw purchase. How many other dealers went through with the sale after assurances from “investigators” that he was not, in fact, the actual buyer of the gun, and that she was, in fact, the actual buyer of the gun?

I also question the small number of gun shows in this sample, many of them by the same promoter, Bill Goodman’s Gun & Knife Shows, who now has a statement on his web site speaking to the sting by Mayor Bloomberg, and promising to review his practices, which pretty clearly he needs to do if he has the same unlicensed dealers showing up multiple times at his shows.

I don’t question that Bloomberg’s investigators have found evidence of troubling illegal activity at some gun shows, and I agree that ATF needs to do a better job of cracking down this kind of thing. But I disagree with this reports assertion in regards to the scale of the problem, and with the reports contention that we need new laws to deal with this problem. Everything showing here is a violation of existing federal laws, and the individuals depicted could be prosecuted under those laws. Bloomberg’s goal here was to give gun shows a black eye, in hopes of promoting more gun control laws, and the methodology used is the most effective I’ve seen. I would say we can expect more of it. It is effective because, unfortunately,  his investigators was actually able to uncover some blatantly illegal activity at some shows. That’s not something we should be proud of, and we ought to, as a community, demand better. Bloomberg may be inflating the scale of the problem, but it is a problem, and we ought not look kindly on members of our community who give the other side such powerful ammunition to use against us all.

10 thoughts on “Bloomberg’s Sting in Detail”

  1. I’m fairly new to the whole gun culture and have only been to a few gun shows. The Bloomberg sting videos seem to show some private citizens selling newly manufactured firearms in quantities similar to FFL dealers. So my question is: is it legal for a private citizen to buy newly manufactured firearms and sell them at gun shows under a private transaction?

    I’ll refer you to this video:

    The guy with the mustache and the Ohio State University shirt seems to have quite a few new guns for sale on his table. In another video he claims he’s not a licensed dealer. So if a Private citizen can sell new guns under a private transaction (in this case in Ohio), what’s the point of having FFLs? This is what bugs me most about this whole sting operation.

    This is regardless of the fact that some of the people caught on tape sold to the uncover guys when they shouldn’t have.

  2. The issue isn’t whether the gun is new or not, but whether you’re “engaged in the business” or selling guns for “livelihood and profit” which in the case of these vendors seems to almost certainly be the case. You’re allowed to sell guns privately, but generally only in limited numbers. There’s no hard fast rule, but if you read the report, you can see what courts generally regard as selling guns for livelihood or profit, which is a line all of these private dealers depicted are clearly crossing.

  3. The awful truth

    After the GCA of 1968, ATF would bust any private party selling more than a few firearms, by claiming they were dealing without an FFL. Then came FOPA in 1986. FFL were then given out liberally to almost anyone who applied. So problem solved right? All those casual deals were at least on paper.

    Then came the awful 1990’s. It was claimed ‘kitchen table dealers’ were a menace to public safety. The policy became to drive as many of those casual FFL holders as possible out of business. After several years the number of people holding a license plummeted.

    So now along comes the puppet anti-gun org MAIG, and once again private sales are the menace. B.S. The so-called problem is one of the anti-gunners own creation, and the gun community should not let them get away with it.

  4. If the ATF does anything about this, they will use the claim that these “dealers” are engaged in the business without a license. I doubt they are actually guilty of selling to prohibited persons unless the “investigators” are actually prohibited in which case they should be prosecuted as well.

  5. What would happen if as soon as the vendor realized that it was an attempted straw purchase, they called the police and reported it? Would the attempted buyers get arrested?

  6. It doesn’t matter what the actual truth was, but what the dealer thought he understood. Otherwise you couldn’t bust people for, say, child sex, because the “13 year old girl” was really a 30 year old female detective. It’s what he thought he knew that matters.

  7. Broad overview: they have discovered a way to help the ATF sort out questionable dealers at select gunshows.

    But they appear to assume that this is typical behavior, and that a majority of criminals source their firearms at gun shows.

    Isn’t there a DOJ study among convicted criminals that points towards theft and/or black-market resale of stolen items as the main source of guns among criminals?

  8. Their claim that gun shows represent 30% of crime guns is misleading, and is based on a decades old study of only a subset of guns on the black market. Studies of actual crime guns have put the number in the low single digits.

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