Why are Californians Flocking to Nevada to Buy Guns?

Faced with a state legislature that’s actively seeking to upend the Second Amendment as well as a host of draconian gun laws that are already on the books, many Californians have opted to travel to a gun-friendly state like Nevada to purchase and/or sell firearms and ammunition.

A recent article in the Sacramento Bee investigated this phenomenon, the authors wrote:

Thousands of people, many from California and some toting unloaded guns for sale, waited in line for nearly two hours across from Reno’s glitzy Atlantis Hotel on a recent Saturday for the chance to buy and sell weapons. It is a right, they insisted, that never has been in greater jeopardy in America.

The crowd was the largest in memory for the Crossroads of the West gun show in Reno, organizers said, and the reason was hardly a mystery. Gun advocates are nervous amid talk of proposed laws that could restrict their ability to buy and sell weapons and ammunition. Already, several noted, gun shops across the country are reporting shortages.

One of the individuals that was interviewed by the Bee, Ellis Davis a retired corrections officer from Susanville, Nevada, put the situation in simple terms, “Why are there so many people here today?  Because they want to take away our gun rights.”

Obviously, this is a big point.  People are (legitimately) fearful that the government — whether it is the federal government or their respective state government — is going to pass confiscatory or highly restrictive gun laws.  Consequently, gun owners are stocking up on ammo, purchasing firearms and firearm-related accessories that may be legal today, but outlawed tomorrow.

Given that this fear is especially palpable in California, a hotbed for gun control advocacy, there is a dearth of quality stock available that is pushing many gun owners to do their shopping in Nevada and Arizona where gun culture is alive and well.

Though, the Bee also argued that because background checks are not mandatory at gun shows in Nevada it attracts a lot of out-of-state travelers, despite the fact that there are laws that prohibit private transactions between Nevada sellers and California buyers.

While arguably most attendees observed this law or conduct an interstate private transaction with the aid of a federally licensed gun dealer (FFL), others were less scrupulous according to the Bee.

“There’s no law that tells me I can’t sell to someone from California,” said a Nevada resident who declined to give his name. “It’s not on me if they drive over to the communist side with this thing. It’s on them.”

Many see this loophole as problematic and a reason why the federal government should enact universal background checks (UBCs) on all gun sales.

“Different states have different standards,” said Graham Barlowe, Sacramento’s agent in charge for the ATF. “It’s impossible for the states with more restrictive standards to maintain them if someone can get around them by going to another jurisdiction.”

While studies show that many of the firearms used in crimes in California come from other states (including Nevada), there is also research that illustrates the majority of ‘crime’ guns aren’t purchased at gun shows.

As the Washington Post pointed out in an article on background checks:

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, will report data from a 2004 survey of inmates in state prisons in a chapter in a book titled “Reducing Gun Violence in America,” to be published Jan. 28 by Johns Hopkins Press.

The offenders were incarcerated from crimes committed with handguns, and this is how they reported how they obtained the guns:

  • Licensed gun dealer: 11 percent
  • Friends or family: 39.5 percent
  • “The street:” 37.5 percent
  • Stolen gun: 9.9 percent
  • Gun show/Flea market: 1.7 percent

In light of this data, it’s almost foolish to target gun shows as a major source for ‘crime’ guns or the criminal element.  Moreover, the insinuation made by the Bee that one of the main reasons Californians are heading to Nevada to purchase firearms is to avoid background checks seems overblown.

Do some private sellers at gun shows circumvent the law as it relates to background checks?  Yes.  But are the majority of these unscrupulous attendees career criminals or gun traffickers?   It doesn’t appear so.

This assessment seemed to have been substantiated by Benjamin Wagner, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California.

“We are very much aware that there are firearms that flow from Nevada to California in violation of federal law,” Wagner told the Bee, adding however that his office primarily focuses on prosecuting cases involving “straw purchasers.”

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