Another myth perpetrated by anti-gun forces. There are no transactions permitted at a gun show that are not permitted anywhere else. (State law controls much of private transfer of firearms; I believe what I say is correct for Minnesota, and I think it’s true in a lot of other states as well, but be sure to check what the law really is in your state before transferring any firearms! I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice!)
What the anti-gun forces really want to do is to ban all private transfers of firearms, and force us to go through a federally licensed dealer for each one. This would drastically restrict availability of firearms to legal owners, and probably significantly raise costs. Licensed dealers are hard to find. There isn’t one in the city of Minneapolis, for example; you have to drive out to the suburbs quite a ways to get to one. The dealers would of course charge money for this service, too. In more rural areas, there may not be one for 100 miles; since one thing “accomplished” during the Clinton administration was to revoke the licenses of a lot of part-time dealers (they targeted everybody without a full-time store-front).
Officially, the goal is to make sure the people who buy through private transactions aren’t people barred from owning firearms.
Of course, it’s already illegal for me to sell to somebody I have reason to believe isn’t allowed to own the firearm, but I’m not required (and in fact I have no means) to run a background check on the buyer. What most people I know do in Minnesota is only sell to people who have a carry permit or a “permit to purchase” issued by their local police; these documents show the person has passed the background check. This isn’t legally required, but the gun-owners I know don’t like the idea of guns getting into the hands of bad guys any more than anybody else.
More to the point, there isn’t any evidence pointing to legal sales through private owners being a significant source of guns used in crimes. Most of them are stolen, from stores or police cars or private homes, or smuggled into the country by gangs (who, after all, routinely smuggle in tons of other contraband; do you really believe they won’t have guns if they want guns?). Some are bought by legal purchasers who are friends of the intended illegal recipients (often their girlfriends); these transactions are called “straw purchases” and are already a felony. In other countries, raids on police and military armories have been resorted to.
Incidentally, one of the reasons gun shows are so important is precisely that there aren’t that many gun stores around. For a lot of people, waiting for a gun show to come by is their best way to see a wide range of merchandise and be able to decide what they want to buy. At a gun show, you get to see merchandise from a lot of dealers from a very large geographic area, conveniently exhibiting in one room for your convenience.
The existence of a vibrant used market in guns helps keep prices down (back to my theme that guns shouldn’t be a tool or hobby reserved for the rich). Collectors do some speculating as well, and late in their lives often cash in much of their collection; requiring each transaction to go through a licensed dealer would be a hideous barrier to selling off a collection, and would no doubt cost these people huge amounts of money (good collections are easily worth tens of thousands of dollars, even if they haven’t invested nearly that much into them, as guns have appreciated a lot over the last few decades).
Where is the line between somebody selling off a collection, and somebody making a living as an unlicensed dealer? There’s lots of law about this, and the BATFE is fairly active in pursuing unlicensed dealers (in fact, over-active; they lose a lot of cases, that is, the courts decide the person is not in fact acting as an unlicensed dealer). The point is, there isn’t a “problem” with unlicensed dealers. A person who sells off a collection he’s owned for a long time, without buying a lot of new guns he then sells off, is clearly a collector selling a collection, even if the numbers sold are fairly high (for a while); he’s not any sort of dealer, and shouldn’t have the extreme limits applied to dealers applied to him. Even if he happens to rent a table at a gun show to sell some of them.
I won’t even try to go into the additional complexities this would add to gifts and inheritances.
I’d love to talk to anybody who wants to understand this in more detail, has questions, or whatever, in the comments sections here, in email, in person, or however is convenient.