Tough talk in D.C., but guns still easy to buy in Ohio

You can buy the same model of gun used in the Sandy Hook shooting out of the trunk of a car in Dayton for $1,500 cash, no paperwork required. A different model of semi-automatic rifle can be bought without a background check for $450.

These bargains were offered to a reporter at Bill Goodman’s Gun and Knife show at the Vandalia Airport Expo Center earlier this month.

Such transactions are legal under current law, using what’s commonly called the “gun show loophole.” Such purchases do not require any sort of background check for people buying guns from private sellers. Checks are required only when buying from licensed dealers.

But that could change later this year. President Barack Obama is calling for Congress to require background checks on all gun sales with very limited exceptions, such as transfers among family members. House and Senate Democrats have introduced a handful of bills to do this, some requiring background checks for every gun sale, others requiring checks between private parties at gun shows.

“Criminals, terrorists, the mentally ill and other dangerous people shouldn’t be able to walk into a gun show and walk out with guns and assault weapons, no questions asked,”said U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., upon submitting his bill this week. “Closing the gun show loophole is a simple step that we can take to increase gun safety and prevent dangerous weapons from getting into the wrong hands.”

Gun shows are not the only places to buy weapons with no background checks. The website lists numerous guns for sale across Ohio with no paperwork needed, including guns similar to those used at Sandy Hook.

The websites eBay and Craigslist both prohibit listing firearms, as does this newspaper’s classified ads section.

Calls placed to Dave Goodman, son of gun show founder Bill Goodman, were not returned. A posting on the gun show’s website disputes the existence of a “gun show loophole.”

“What is commonly referred to as the gun show ‘loophole’ is nothing but a derogatory reference to conduct that is specifically permitted under both state and federal law,” the statement says. “Accordingly, to the extent that anyone engages in conduct as a buyer or a seller of a firearm, whether at a gun show or anywhere else, that is in any way in violation of any applicable law, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

A Pew Research poll released this month said 85 percent of Americans favor background checks for private sales at gun shows and elsewhere.

Supporters of that idea include Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer.

“Why don’t we do a background check on every gun sold?” he said.

Gun-rights advocates say legislating how private individuals can sell one or two pieces of private property is an over-reach that would affect not just gun shows but someone selling a hunting rifle to a friend or someone trying to sell an inherited firearm.

“The selling of your firearm between two law-abiding people should be the same as if you’re selling a couch or TV or something along those lines,” said Joe Eaton, southwest Ohio chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association.

He pointed to federal studies that found less than 2 percent of criminals who used a firearm said they bought the gun from a gun show or flea market; 80 percent said they got their guns from a friend, family member or the street.

“If you’re looking just to reduce crime, if you specifically look at the gun shows, criminals do not use gun shows to get their firearms,” Eaton said. “Restricting that type of sale is not going to have an impact.”

Local law enforcement officials say local criminals do get guns from Bill Goodman’s.

An August 2011 sting by Dayton police conducted at Bill Goodman’s resulted in four arrests. Two men who were barred from having guns – one for a pair of crack cocaine possessions, the other after a robbery conviction – allegedly bought weapons and ammunition from private sellers, who required no background checks.

Gun control advocates say requiring universal checks would shift the burden from the buyer to the seller. Currently, a private dealer is only barred from selling to someone who he or she has reason to believe would not be allowed to have a gun.

“If the sellers know they’re going to be held liable if they sell it to someone without a background check, they’re going to think twice. They’re going to say, ‘I don’t know this person, I don’t know what he’s going to do with it,’ ” said Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.

A 2009 undercover operation by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office found private sellers were even violating current law. They took cameras into Bill Goodman’s as well as shows in Tennessee and Nevada and recorded licensed and unlicensed sellers selling to people either admitting they could not pass a background check or posing as obvious “straw buyers” for criminals.

The straw buyers are still buying today, according to Sheriff Plummer, who said his office conducts stings every few months. He said this often involves a woman passing a background check to buy a gun for her gang member boyfriend who legally is not allowed to have a gun. Requiring universal checks would do little to address this problem.

Goodman’s regular, monthly event is being held today at Hara Arena.

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