A Deadly Loophole, Gone

The infamous gun show loophole has been part of the nation’s conversation about gun control since the appalling massacre in Newtown, Conn., late last year.

Advocates for tighter regulation, especially Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have been pointing out that in most states, those who purchase weapons at a gun show are not required to submit to background checks—and in places where such checks are required, they are not rigorously enforced. That loophole is absurd: why is a gun sale at a show any different from a sale in a conventional gun shop? And yet gun rights advocates have continued to resist calls to create or enforce background checks at gun shows.

Here in New York, however, this loophole has been closed, thanks to timely work by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The attorney general has come to an agreement with the vast majority of gun show operators in the state to enforce a state law that requires background checks at shows.

New York has seized the lead on gun regulation in Newtown’s aftermath, even as neighboring states continue to fight all the old battles while accomplishing very little.

It should be noted, however, that the gun show operators did not come to the table with Mr. Schneiderman of their own accord and out of a sense of public responsibility. They did so because the attorney general exposed them as part of the problem.

Well before the Newtown massacre, Mr. Schneiderman authorized an undercover operation at the state’s gun shows to determine if the sellers at gun shows complied with required background checks—New York is one of only a handful of states with such a requirement. The sellers did not. In fact, they casually sold guns—including assault weapons—to undercover agents who said that they had outstanding orders of protection against them.

The attorney general pressed criminal charges against the offenders, leading to a series of convictions. But rather than pursuing civil cases against the sellers as well, the attorney general’s office extracted this new, broad agreement to ensure that more than 80 percent of the state’s gun show operators will enforce the required background check.

In addition to the checks, 23 gun show operators agreed to implement a better system to track the sales of weapons at their shows and promised to monitor parking lots to make sure that rogue sellers are not conducting business in violation of regulations.

The agreement in New York has broader implications for the national debate on gun control. As the attorney general said, “Once we demonstrate how easy this is and how it keeps people safe, it weakens the arguments on the federal level that guaranteeing background checks are overly burdensome or face meaningful opposition.”

Many advocates of gun ownership have argued that local governments should enforce the laws that are already on the books before writing new ones. They have a point, as this case clearly demonstrates.

It also demonstrates that enforcing the law requires, sadly, extraordinary government action, like the use of undercover agents. Kudos to the attorney general for his leadership.