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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

To preempt the tide of angry comments and emails, let me clarify that, despite the ambiguity of the leading clause, I support Second Amendment rights. But one of the favorite arguments used by staunch advocates of the Second Amendment is some variant of the “we don’t need more guns laws, we just need to enforce the current laws.” Ya think? The recent undercover operation conducted by New York City blows a giant hole in the idea that we’re enforcing the current laws.

Commissioned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the sting operation used hidden cameras to expose the sale of guns by private dealers–who are exempted by the so-called “gun show loophole”–to confederates who presented themselves as people who would not be able to pass a background checks. They have a site where you can view the above video, along with raw footage of the transactions and the commissions’ final report. Here’s an excerpt from the AP’s write-up:

Nine states, including New York, have passed laws to close the loophole, requiring background checks on at least all handgun purchases at gun shows. Bloomberg has long campaigned for Congress to close it, and for states to do it on their own if the federal government does not.

Even in states that haven’t closed the loophole, federal law bars “occasional sellers” from selling guns to people they have reason to believe would fail background checks.

This is where the Bloomberg operation says 19 out of 30 sellers broke the law during the investigation, in which undercover investigators posing as buyers wore tiny cameras concealed in baseball hats and purses and audio recorders hidden in wristwatches.

In each purchase, the investigator showed interest in buying a gun, agreed on a price and then indicated that he probably could not pass a background check. Most sellers allowed the purchases anyway, responding in some cases by saying, “I couldn’t pass one either,” or “I don’t care,” according to the videos.

Two assault rifles and 20 semiautomatic handguns were bought this way, the report said.

“What you just saw was willful disregard of the law, and it happened again and again and again,” Bloomberg said, after showing several videos of those sales.

The 11 dealers who refused sales showed they knew the law.

“Once you say that, I’m kind of obligated not to,” said one seller on video. “I think that’s what the rules are.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms released a terse, noncommittal statement, but may take action in response to the report’s release. The ATF, despite seeing its annual budget nearly double during the past decade, from just over a half billion to more than a billion, may simply be overwhelmed: There are thousands of gun shows across the country every year.

Gun sellers in Tennessee were none too pleased with the report. “[Bloomberg] needs to keep his business in New York and let Tennessee deal with Tennessee,” said [Stephanie] Rhodes, a Smithville resident who attended a gun show on Sunday in Franklin. Rhodes and her friend Rick Foster, who purchased a rifle at the show, said they’ve been going to gun shows for years and believe most dealers conduct background checks, or at least ask if someone is a felon before selling him or her a gun.

Most conduct background checks? They at least ask if you are a felon? That’s comforting. It’s truly amazing how much disconnect there is in post-9/11 America between guns and the monitoring of everything other security-related behavior. I flew two weeks ago and forgot to swap my regular-sized toothpaste for the travel size and had to surrender it at the security gate, of course. But if i just tell a private gun dealer that I’m not a felon–c’mon, dude, do I look like a felon?–I can get myself a semiautomatic.

Of course, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Well, sure, but they’re killing a lot more people in red states than blue states. Holding DC aside, the ten states with the lowest per-capital gun death rates all voted for Barack Obama, and seven of the ten high highest voted for John McCain.

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