Attorney General cracks down on illegal gun sales
by Lisa A. Fraser
Dec 07, 2011 | 1427 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo compliments of the Attorney General's office.
Photo compliments of the Attorney General's office.
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State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last week uncovered that gun show operations are alternatively serving as a marketplace for illegal gun sales.

Called “Operation Background Bust,” his office's investigation found what he calls a “blatant disregard” for gun show laws requiring background checks.

The investigation found that vendors sold guns to customers who disclosed they had orders of protection against them. The vendors sold guns to the customers anyway, knowing that they couldn't pass a background check.

“The illegal sale of guns at gun shows endangers the public by giving felons, terrorists and the dangerously mentally ill an open and anonymous marketplace to buy guns without a background check,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Our investigators found a blatant disregard for the law where sellers made the conscious decision to sell deadly weapons to individuals who admitted they would not pass a background check.

“Operation Background Bust not only exposed major flaws in the gun show laws but also proved how ‘off the books’ operations jeopardize public safety by making it easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands,” he added.

Schneiderman announced that his office has filed criminal charges against ten gun sellers from across New York State who violated the state's background check requirement for the sale of firearms at gun shows.

Schneiderman's office is also sending out cease-and-desist letters to gun show operators based upon the violations found. The letters direct them to comply with the law and to cease practices that permit gun sales without background checks.

“My office plans to work with the Legislature to hold gun show operators liable when guns are sold at their gun shows without the required background check,” he said.

The eight-month investigation into the practices of vendors at gun shows throughout the state revealed that on many occasions, weapons sellers at gun shows failed to ensure that a National Instant Criminal Background (NICS) check was conducted on the prospective gun buyer, as required by state law. These illegal sales, classified as misdemeanors, took place even after undercover investigators told the gun sellers that they had orders of protection against them and could not pass a background check.

The investigation further exposed a gap in current law which holds only the individual gun seller, not the gun show operator, legally accountable for failing to ensure that a background check on the prospective gun purchaser has been conducted.

NICS background checks are required for all gun purchases at gun shows throughout the state. A person who fails a NICS background check is ineligible to purchase or possess a gun under federal law.

New York’s background check requirement for all gun show sales was enacted in 2000 in an effort to prevent potentially dangerous individuals, including felons and the seriously mentally ill, from having easy access to firearms in the state.

Gun show operators in New York are required to post signs giving notice of the background check requirement, as well as have a terminal inside the show where, by either phone or computer, a prospective purchaser's name and information can be cross-checked against the national NICS database.

On some occasions, sellers agreed to sell the weapon to the undercover officer and then left the premises of the gun show in an attempt to evade the background check requirement by selling the firearm in a location other than the gun show itself.

Jackie Hilly, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, commended the attorney general for the crackdown.

“The legislature should listen to our state’s top law enforcement officer and hold gun show operators accountable for widespread violations of the law that put our communities in danger,” she said.

A few days after the attorney general's announcement, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced the introduction of federal legislation to crack down on corrupt gun dealers and eliminate the steady flow of illegal guns into New York.

Gillibrand’s Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2011 aims to strengthen enforcement against firearm sellers who disregard mandatory background checks and who knowingly distribute illegal weapons.

It also provides greater penalties for kingpins who organize gun trafficking rings, subjecting them to an additional sentence of potentially five consecutive years in prison.

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