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In Multi-State Sting, New York Exposes Gun Show Loophole At Westland Mall

In a video posted on the New York City government's website, a gun seller in Columbus did not seem to care when an undercover investigator suggests he would not pass a background check.

"No background checks, right?" says the undercover investigator. "No," says the dealer. "Good, because I probably couldn't pass one," says the investigator. "Now why would you do that? Have you been bad?" "Have I been bad? I'd rather not go there."

The dealer then sells the investigator a gun. This transaction occurred at the Westland Mall Gun Show in July.

The City of New York commissioned undercover private investigators to case gun shows in Ohio, Nevada, and Tennessee. The New York Mayor's Criminal Justice Coordinator, John Feinblatt, says the investigation tested two things.

"Would private sellers sell to someone even if they knew, or had reason to believe, that they were a criminal, and to test whether licensed dealers would make straw sales,'" says Feinblatt.

Straw sales are when buyers have an accomplice fill out the required background check paperwork, avoiding it themselves. Together, these two scenarios make up the so-called "gun show loophole."

At the Westland Mall Gun Show this year, 5 out of 6 private sellers sold guns to undercover investigators -- despite being told the buyer wouldn't pass a background check. One licensed dealer was approached with a so-called straw sale. He sold the gun anyways.

Though no criminal charges have been filed, a federal court ordered the alleged gun show offenders to receive additional gun law training and monitoring. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the sting has already yielded results in his city.

"A recent study showed that since the lawsuits were settled, the share of guns coming from those dealers and being recovered at crime scenes in our city has declined by a stunning seventy-five percent," says Bloomberg.

Bloomberg says his office sent a copy of the report to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He plans to send the report to members of Congress to encourage federal legislation to close the loophole.

But not everyone is convinced additional legislation is needed. The National Rifle Association believes criminals should be prosecuted for their crimes. But NRA spokesperson Vicki Ciplak says the NRA doesn't think the sting was really about fighting crime.

"If Mayor Bloomberg is serious about curbing gun crime, then why didn't he work with the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute these alleged lawbreakers on the spot. So we believe all he seems to be interested in is grandstanding in front of the media," says Ciplak.

Ciplak says current laws provide enough protection against abuse to citizens.

Over the course of the sting, 35 of 47 gun dealers made allegedly unlawful sales.

Sadie Taylor, WOSU News