For Release: Wednesday, July 17, 1996
Federal Gun De-Control Law Passed 10 Years Ago Has Allowed Gun Shows to Proliferate
Gun shows have become “Tupperware® Parties for Criminals,” according to a new 72-page study that will be released on Wednesday, July 17, by the Violence Policy Center (VPC). The study, Gun Shows in America: Tupperware® Parties for Criminals, will be released at a 12:00 noon Capitol Hill press conference outside at the House Triangle with study author and VPC Director of Federal Policy Kristen Rand and Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY).
Gun Shows in America: Tupperware® Parties for Criminals reveals that over the past decade: the number of gun shows has increased dramatically; gun shows have become a favorite sales outlet for criminals; gun shows have catered to such notable customers as David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh, and at least one member of Arizona’s Viper Militia; gun shows have become “town squares” where militia members and the extremist fringe recruit new members; and, that gun shows have become a primary source for stolen military parts. The study concludes that many of these dramatic changes are the result of the 1986 “Firearms Owners’ Protection Act”—the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) decade-old federal gun de-control bill.
Gun Shows in America: Tupperware® Parties for Criminals is the first in a series of new VPC studies that will analyze the effects of the 10-year-old law, commonly known as McClure-Volkmer for its House and Senate sponsors: former Senator James McClure (R-ID) and Representative Harold Volkmer (D-MO). The law rolled back portions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and weakened the already minimal federal oversight of the firearms industry. The VPC study identifies two key provisions of McClure-Volkmer that led to the dramatic increase in the number of shows and their expanded role in criminal gun trafficking: 1) the law allowed federally licensed firearms dealers to sell at gun shows; and 2) the law increased the volume of guns that could be sold by private individuals from their “personal collections.” The result was a new gun show environment, with licensed gun sellers competing shoulder-to-shoulder with unlicensed hobbyists. This created incentives for both licensed dealers and unlicensed individuals to disregard federal and state laws. The study offers numerous examples of the common ways in which illegal firearms trafficking occurs at gun shows.
To gauge McClure-Volkmer’s effect on both the number of gun shows and their role in criminal gun trafficking, the VPC conducted interviews nationwide with gun show organizers and representatives from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies (no federal statistics are maintained as to the exact number of gun shows). The survey found general agreement that the number of shows has increased dramatically, with some citing increases of up to 50 percent. This unprecedented growth has made gun shows virtually impossible to regulate and helped facilitate illegal firearms trafficking, or as one law enforcement official interviewed put it, “There are just too many gun shows and not enough agents.”
Kristen Rand, VPC director of federal policy and the study’s author, states, “Gun shows have become nothing less than Tupperware® parties for criminals. They provide a reliable source of guns, ammunition, even military hardware for criminals of all types, and act as a regular meeting place and recruiting ground for anti-government activists and militia members.”
The key role gun shows play in the militia movement is illustrated by the comments of William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, the “bible” of the militia movement, and head of the anti-semitic and racist National Alliance. In 1994 Pierce stated, “Gun shows provide a natural recruiting environment. Many more are being held now than ever before, and many more people are attending them.” The most recent confirmation of Pierce’s views came this month when members of Arizona’s Viper Militia were arrested for conspiring to blow up federal buildings and for possession of illegal machine guns. At least one member of the Viper Militia was known to have frequented gun shows. The name “Viper” may have also been taken from OPLAN American Viper, a blueprint for overthrowing the government that has been circulating at gun shows throughout the country. The importance of gun shows to the militia movement is illustrated by one militia field manual which warns militia members that “gun show” is one of the 21 topics or words not to be mentioned in public or when talking on the telephone.
The study also describes how gun shows have become a primary source for stolen military hardware. The study cites evidence from the General Accounting Office (GAO) that stolen military parts were available at 13 of 15 gun shows visited by GAO personnel, including parts used to convert semi-automatic assault weapons to fully-automatic machine guns.
The study concludes with a series of policy recommendations that may be implemented at the local, state, and federal levels.
Copies of the full 72-page study as well as an 11-page executive summary are available from the Violence Policy Center.