Fact Finders: Background checks at Missouri gun shows

Can someone buy an assault rifle at a gun show in Missouri without a background check?
Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 6:44 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - President Biden is pressuring Congress to re-instate a long-expired federal ban on assault-style weapons. The push comes after mass shootings in New York, Illinois, and at a Texas school.

So, our viewer Loren wants to know, “Can someone buy an assault rifle at a gun show in Missouri without a background check?”

There are gun shows in Missouri nearly every weekend. And the state does not have a specific classification for assault rifles.

As for the background checks, it matters who sells you the firearm. Debbie Newman from Cherokee Firearms tells me individuals and federally licensed firearm dealers can set up tables and sell firearms at a gun show event. And that makes a difference. A dealer with a Federal Firearms License must perform a federal background check at a gun show.

“The FFL (Federal Firearms License) dealers (like ourselves) are required by law to perform the federal background check at gun shows just like we do in the store,” explained Newman.

In the other case, The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms says an individual may sell a firearm to another Missouri resident without a background check with some stipulations.

“An individual may transfer a firearm to another Missouri resident, provided the transferor does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the transferee is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under federal law. This transfer does not require a background check under federal or state law,” explained John E. Ham of The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

“They certainly can have an FFL dealer run a background check on their buyer, but they are not required to by law in Missouri,” added Newman of Cherokee Firearms.

The Giffords Law Center says most of those at gun shows are licensed dealers. “Our main goal at Giffords and the same goal with other gun safety organizations is to make it harder for bad guys to get guns, and Missouri’s laws around private dealers to private sellers gets in the way of that,” explained Sean Holihan.

He adds that individuals really don’t have a good way to know much about the buyer.

“If I was a seller, and you came to me and said, well, you know, hey, look, I’m a reporter, clearly, I’ve got a good, you know, record and people know me, but there’s no way for me to look at your background history. So, I think it’s really imperative for state legislators across the country to understand that you can support the second amendment, and you can support people’s rights to own a weapon. But if you’ve shown that you don’t deserve to have a weapon because you’re a felon, we should make it harder for those people to get a weapon,” added Holihan.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Department added some advice for buyers at gun shows purchasing from individuals. “If you do purchase a firearm from a private citizen, we would recommend that you get some type of bill of sale or proof of purchase that shows that you purchased this firearm from this certain person, and maybe ask them if they do have a Federal Firearms License because sometimes, people might not be honest with you about that,” explained Paige Rippee.

If you’re an individual selling an assault-style weapon at a gun show, you do have to make sure the buyer meets any age requirements. And, as mentioned, you must have a reasonable belief that the buyer doesn’t have any legal issues which would prohibit them from passing a background check.

The ATF does recommend you buy from a licensed dealer. That way, you ensure the person you’re buying from is not prohibited from owning or selling the firearm.

Circling back to Loren’s question, “Can someone buy an assault rifle at a gun show in Missouri without a background check?” Bottom line, if you buy from an individual, you probably will not have a background check run on you. So, we’re going to slide this to yes. You can buy an assault rifle in Missouri at a gun show without a background check.

One other thing to consider is online sales.

“Many folks go through a website called Armslist. And you can go there, and you can toggle between a licensed seller and a private seller. And if you go on to armslist.com right now and you search for a listing of handguns through a private party, you can find 384 handguns for sale in Missouri that you do not need a background check to purchase. And I think that’s one of the biggest pieces that troubles gun safety advocates like myself because we’re not against gun sales,” says Holihan of Giffords Law Center.

“Just like with anything, nowadays, people buy things online instead of going to a brick-and-mortar store or a gun show. And these dealers and private sellers will often ship the gun right to your home. You don’t even have to meet them face to face. So I think part of this conversation across the country is that we need to be talking more about this Craigslist of gun sales,” concluded Holihan.

Editorial Note: After we published and aired this story, several of you had questions about our choice to use the term ‘assault rifle’ in our story.

The term ‘assault rifle’ is built into the viewer’s question. Her question is, “Can someone buy an assault rifle at a gun show in Missouri without a background check?” Based on the rest of her email, she wanted to know, can you walk into a gun show and buy one of the firearms used in a mass shooting this summer (re: Highland Park, Buffalo, Uvalde)?

As several viewers know and have pointed out, the definition of an assault rifle is very contentious and has been since the 1994 assault weapons ban.

The NRA and the NSSF prefer the term Modern Sporting Rifle. For example, NSSF writes (the), “AR-15-platform rifles are among the most popular firearms being sold. They are today’s modern sporting rifle.” They say, “an assault rifle is fully automatic (or) a machine gun.”

Here’s what a UC-Davis researcher said on the topic of defining an assault rifle: Defining AR-15 rifles as assault weapons is a prerequisite towards regulating them as desired by the gun control faction and resisted by the gun rights movement. As found with other topics of cultural discourse, everything hinges on the definition used, and each side has found a definition to suit its purpose. We will briefly review the two sides and the arguments for and against found in popular conversation. Supporters of gun rights cite the U.S. Army for a definition that an assault rifle has a selective fire capability, including a setting for fully automatic fire. Since civilian AR-15 do not have this capability, they do not meet the definition and should not be regulated. However, neither the National Rifle Association (NRA) or anyone else has referenced a specific document published by the U.S. Army with this definition. On the other hand, proponents of gun control define an assault rifle with the definition used by the Assault Weapons Ban. https://library.ucdavis.edu/.../firearms-history-and-the.../

Besides the Federal 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, cities in the Boulder, Colorado area recently enacted assault weapons bans with the very first definition for them being a detachable magazine.

The bottom line for this viewer, she wanted to know; Can you walk into a gun show and buy a firearm like those used in mass shootings this summer without a background check? The answer is yes, you can (see detailed explanation above). The terminology is built into her question. So, we decided to keep her terminology and not change the wording of her question.

Overall, we prefer to follow the Associated Press and use the terms Semi-Automatic Rifle or Assault-Style Weapons. We hope this answers your questions about the use of the term ‘assault rifle.’

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com