In a Rose Garden event, President Joe Biden announced several actions his administration will take to address what he called an “epidemic” of gun violence.
Biden repeated his call for Congress to pass legislation to expand background checks. The House voted largely along party lines to pass a pair of background check bills this year, but they haven’t moved forward in the Senate.
“These bills, one, require background checks for anyone purchasing a gun at a gun show or an online sale,” Biden said at the April 8 event. “Most people don’t know it, you walk into a store and you buy a gun, you have a background check. But you go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want, and no background check.”
When it comes to background checks for gun purchases, what matters is who sells the guns, not where the guns are sold — and when a federally licensed seller is a vendor at a gun show, they have to run a background check just as they would if they were back at a bricks-and-mortar gun store.
The White House told PolitiFact that Biden wasn’t suggesting that every gun transaction at a gun show would take place without a background check. Instead, he meant that sales without background checks could occur in some cases.
However, that’s not what he said.
What the laws say about sales at gun shows
Advocates for stricter gun control measures often talk about the “gun show loophole,” though some observers say the term is a misnomer. The phrase itself doesn’t explain who is and isn’t required to run background checks at gun shows.
Federal law requires that people in the business of dealing in firearms be licensed by the federal government.
Specifically, the law says that a license is required if “a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.”
The law specifically rules out a required license if a person “makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”
This can sometimes be a fuzzy distinction, but it means many sellers of guns do need to have a license.
“Every federally licensed retailer, whether they are selling a gun at a brick and mortar store, a gun show or the sale starts online,” must complete a signed background check form from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and get approval from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system, said Mark Oliva, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.