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 Nick's Wilson Combat 1911 before it was his (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

TTAG reader Shandower writes:

With all the talk of universal background checks (and the never-mentioned gun registration that would be required to enforce it), I decided it was time to make sure I had some firepower that couldn’t be traced back to me. Yes, that’s right, I decided to exploit the gun show loophole to get me a 1911 [not shown]. My first step was to go take out some cash. Clearly you can’t use credit cards for this sort of thing, so cash is really the only way to go. A couple of trips to the ATM later, I had a cool grand in Benjamins stuffed into my pocket, and I headed for the local gun show . . .

I live in Washington State, and the big twice-monthly gun show there is run by the Washington Arms Collectors at the fairgrounds in Puyallup and Monroe, alternately. The first thing you need to do is get INTO the show, which costs you $9. You also need to disarm completely, because loaded/unziptied weapons aren’t allowed in the show at all, nor are loaded magazines. So everyone with a cary gun probably leaves it in the giant, open, unpatrolled parking lots and walks around with wads of cash on them. Because safety.

Anyway, $9 will get you in the show, but to purchase a firearm there, you have to be a member, which is about $35 per calendar year (that is to say, if you become a member in November, you have two months before you have to renew.) In order to be a member, you also have to pass a background check, and you won’t get your badge until it’s complete. I’m cool, though, because I got my membership a couple months ago, so I’m all set.

I walk around the show and quickly find the very model 1911 that I came for at a price only slightly above what would be considered the going retail price. Many people think there are cheap guns at shows, but I haven’t seen them. Mostly it’s about selection, and not having to pay transfer and shipping fees on a gun you’ve never even laid eyes on. So I expected to pay a little more than what you see them for on Gunbroker, which would require shipping and transfer fees (and a background check) to get.

I tell the fine merchant that I would like to purchase the 1911. They ask to see my WAC card (which I give them) and my CPL (which I also provide). Oh, I forgot to mention – if you don’t have a CPL in Washington, there’s a five day wait. Since this is a two day gun show, that five days would turn into two months (because there’s no WAC show next month, for whatever reason). Alternately, I could wait a week and then drive the 530 mile round trip across the state to pick it up, but with the price of gas, I’ll just use my CPL.

“How do I get a CPL?” I hear you ask. Well, that’s pretty simple. Washington is a shall-issue state, so they have to issue you a license unless there’s a reason they shouldn’t. So you go down to your local police station with your photo ID, fill out the application, pay the $52.50 fee, and then wait 30 days for your background check to clear. They’ll even mail your card to you.

Back at the table, though, they have my photo ID, my CPL, and my cash. Now it’s time for a NICS check. I fill out the standard ATF Form 4473 that you have to do at any gun store, which they then transcribe into their computer for an online NICS check. It’s quick and simple and quite probably entirely logged and recorded, because thats how computers work.

Having now paid for the gun, the WAC card, the CPL, and sales tax, and having submitted to three different background checks in the process, I’m done. It’s quite literally that easy to buy a gun at a gun show. It seems unlikely to me at this point, but everybody knows that guns bought at gun shows are untraceable, off the books. I’m comforted by that thought, because now no one will know about my secret, hard-to-find 1911.

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    • Good story, but I’m also in WA and you could have purchased from a private seller at that show without the NICS check, wait period (regardless of CPL), or sales tax. The gun show membership requiring a background check is another issue. The gun shows on the Eastern side of the State don’t have that (that I’ve been to). BUT, you could have just purchased from an individual inside or outside of the gun show. Found a listing on or whatever, and met up w/ someone in a parking lot somewhere, etc. No paperwork no check no nothin’

      Just to be clear, I’m NOT against this. Just sayin’. I have bought and sold dozens of guns private party and I personally choose to require a valid CPL to do it (just to make me feel better and know at a higher certainty level that the person is legit). Otherwise, I split the FFL transfer fee. That hasn’t happened, though, as most people who are interested in buying or selling a gun privately do have a CPL in this state, and most people do ask to verify it before selling a gun to someone else.

      • Well, I COULD have, but I didn’t want a Rem 700 or a 5.7 or a 10/22 that’s been beat to crap, which is all I saw walking around in private sale.

        But yes, your point is my point, just without my sarcasm. I could private-seller guns all day long off the books. Heck, I could buy from a regular gun store with less paperwork (if I skip the WAC and CPL) than I went through at the gun show.

        But everybody KNOWS about the gun show loophole! That’s why gun shows are being specifically targeted, right? It just so happened it was the only place I had seen a 1911 in 9mm, too.

        And now you see why I wanted it off the books, right? 🙂

        • Of course, if you bought a handgun from a dealer at a WAC show – your new pistola IS on the books. Because you also filled out and signed the form for the state pistol registry, which the dealer sent in.

        • Gun Show Loop hole = Private FTF Sales

          Gun Show Loop Hole is the just the pretty face they have put on in because they would hate to tell people they want to ban private FTF Sales.

          Ditto with internet sales. Anyone could buy via Gunbroker or Kentucky Gun Co. and would require an FFL transfer. What they are talking about is armslist which is to say, FTF Private Sales

          It is NOT about Gun shows nor internet sales, its all about stopping private sales. The anti-gun crowd just needed someone or something to blame that did not sound like they wanted to “ban private sales”.

          99.9% of gun owners will do the right thing and sell to those with a permit. There are those 0.1% that really do not give a crap whom they sell to because they believe it is not their business to know.

          What gets convoluted is that “40% of firearms” are sold that way mumbo jumbo. While 40% may be non-retail brink and mortar sales, 99.9% of that 40% are done through proper channels with proper transfers. There is not 100% in any law.

          In CT, two people who want to transact can get together and can call the same state PD number and get the same check done as if you went to a retail counter. We fill out the same paper work and submit it sans FFL for private sales.

          The myth remains that the bad guys will go through background checks — See Boston Bombers for reference — how did that go?

        • Jeeez, man, why not just do what all of the criminals in Seattle do? Go see your friendly local drug dealer with a handful of cash, and tell him you want to buy a gun?

          Of course, this is a lot less likely to be fatal if you have 4-5 well-armed homeboys backing you up during the transaction. Point being, the whole background check thing does nothing to deter criminals. Hey, Adam Lanza got his guns by KILLING HIS MOTHER and stealing them. You just KNOW that a “universal background check” bill would have stopped him right? /sarc off/

  1. Here in KY, if you have a shall issue CCDW license, you may purchase a firearm without a NICS at the time of sale. You already passed one in your dime when you got said license.

    • Same in Idaho – we figure if you have a current CWL, you already passed a more stringent background check than anything the NICS system does.

      Sure makes purchases faster, and the dealers at gun shows love it – you don’t tie up their cell phones waitng for the NICS system to get off the dime.

    • In WA, if you have a carry permit, you get the privilege of merely going trough NICS. If you do not have one, it’s NICS + a mandatory 5-day waiting period.

  2. I think in this day of the interwebz a lot of people are fooling themselves when they think their gun purchases are secret. Even if you got a completely off the books gun out of great uncle Milt’s closet after he passed you need ammo and other support for the gun. With computer programs telling people they’re pregnant just based on their buying habits I doubt there’s much about our guns the government doesn’t know.

    Unless you’re completely off the grid and have been so your entire life you’re not fooling anyone. What protects us is sheer numbers and orgs like the NRA and SAF. There’s just too many of us.

    • Definitely. There’s almost no way on earth that “the man” doesn’t know who owns guns. However, knowing you own some number of guns — at least 1 or greater — is pretty different from knowing exactly which ones. Make, model, serial number, etc, for every firearm you own. Yeah, there’s a 100% chance that the State and Federal Gov know or could immediately find out that I’m a gun owner. I have a concealed carry permit, had guns registered in CA, have had plenty of NICS checks, and so very much more. Now… is there any way to determine what, exactly, is in my safe? No. At least in the “paranoid fantasy” of a door-to-door confiscation, they won’t have an itemized shopping list. All of the “eggs” aren’t in a single “basket” so nobody’s walking away with all of ’em 😉

      • JMS, I don’t do this myself, but I’ve heard that people stash guns in locations away from their main safes so if some one was to try and round up all their guns it couldn’t be done. Just saying it’s a rumor I’ve heard.

        I’ve also thought of investing in a boat with a side scan sonar. I bet I could pay off the boat in no time with all the salvaging of guns lost in boating accidents.

        • I’ll bet the scrap/recycle value of the steel in all those guns that you would recover would generate thousands of dollars!

    • There is a giant data warehouse outside Salt Lake City that exists for exactly this purpose. Welcome to Total Information Awareness.

  3. some tomfoolery didnt allow the wa CPL to exempt from the NCIS check . And Shandower forgot to mention the separate Washington State record of sale of a handgun form that he also had to fill out!

  4. “Many people think there are cheap guns at shows, but I haven’t seen them. Mostly it’s about selection, and not having to pay transfer and shipping fees on a gun you’ve never even laid eyes on.”

    This echoes completely my experience.

      • At the Tanner today in Denver .223 was about $0.80 per round in bulk. 5.45×39, $0.35 per round. The more common pistol calibers (9mm, .45 ACP and such) at least $0.60 per round.

    • Me as well. While I have found the occasional really good deal (we’re not speaking of bargains, mind you) there normally simply aren’t great prices to be had at gun shows…especially in today’s climate.

      I just got back from the Tanner show in Denver a couple of hours ago, and there were more $800 SKS’s, $1500 Mini-14s, $1400 Bushmasters, and $2000 Kel-Tec KSGs you could shake a stick at. Heck, even that really cool STG-44 .22 LR lookalike that should be going for around $500 was priced at $850!

      • Six months ago I got a SKS from a gun show for about $200 less than the local dealers wanted, but last week I found a M&P 15 at a gun show for $60 more.

      • There might be some good deals late summer or fall if gun grabbing falls out of the news for a few months. Maybe not until we get a new president though.

  5. In Maryland you can’t buy or sell a handgun as well. You have to submit a form even to sell to a family member but there are states out there that are free. But how many person to person sales are there actually happening. How many people big collectors are out there selling there collections? I am sure if you went to a free state and looked for it you might be able to buy one without a background check but I am guessing they are rear witch likely explains why we don’t see news org displaying guns they have bought at gun shows without a background check only repeating endless that you can.


    • In Kansas and Missouri, personal sales are totally unregulated. Kansas recommends a bill of sale, but it’s not required.

      Armslist buzzes ’round here.

      Must be something in – or missing from – the water.

      • As Thomas Jefferson said in his 2nd Inaugural Address:
        “76.3% of all statistics quoted on the Internet are simply made up on the spot.”

        • So now, someone actually professes to believe
          that the internet actually existed during Thomas
          Jefferson’s lifetime and even uses the term
          internet in a supposed quote from him.—-Get real.

  6. This is what the problem is.
    The anti,s have their heads buried up their collective a@@e$.
    They want the noninformative public at large to believe you can just walk into a gun show and buy a gun with no checks what so ever. Maybe in the parking lot but not in the building.

    • Well, you can, and I have. It depends on your state. Here in WI, I’ve bought and sold guns at gun shows without any checks, any ID. Don’t act like it’s illegal or there isn’t a way to get around having to go through a background check

  7. I have a few guns off the books b/c they were gifts from family and are old(er). That said, I have a ccw so what is the harm to the public??

  8. That’s cool, but here in Georgia, anybody in the parking lot can sell a weapon to a stranger with no background check. I find the practice dangerous, careless, and reckless. I will have no part of it. That’s my choice and I am willing to pay the price.

    • That’s true here in Florida, as well. And it happens, but not really that often.

      “I will have no part of it. That’s my choice and I am willing to pay the price.”

      What price is that? The price to pay more, or the price of mandatory background checks?

    • “I find the practice dangerous, careless, and reckless”

      Yeah, because thanks to federal background checks we no longer have gun violence, mass shootings, or crime! Get over yourself. Even the federal government can’t tell what someone is going to do with a firearm.

      If you need some kind of kabuki dance to prevent you from feeling guilt for selling a firearm to someone who misuses it, so be it. At least have the fortitude to admit that is all it is. You, I, the government, have no control over anyone’s actions. All we can do is try to impose appropriate consequences for those actions.

      The reason the system is broken isn’t a lack of background checks or irresponsibility. It is a lack of appropriate consequences…

      • “Get over yourself. ”

        There’s no need to “get over myself”. I’ve made my choice. Now I will live with it. You really don’t have anything to say about it.

    • And you can do the same with books. Dangerous things those books, full of whacky ideas. They should be regulated, yes? So as to be consistent….

  9. In all fairness, this does vary by state. In Georgia, there is no permit or membership is needed to get into a gun show, just the fee. If you purchase from a dealer, you must go through the same NICS check as if you were in the store (waivable with a carry permit). If you purchase from a casual seller, no check is required. My experience has been that the dealers have by far the biggest selection, though.

  10. What happened to “shall not be infringed”? Sounds like a lot of loopholes to jump through so you can exercise your 2A right.

    • What if the anti-gun tards has to jump through those hoops and pay those feez just to VOTE! Or to right a letter for the NEWSPAPER! Or to have to keep from INCRIMINATING HIMSELF IN FRONT OF A COP OR JUDGE! Or to PROTEST INJUSTICES!… Just to name few.

  11. In TX (if your and FFL) seller needs is your drivers license to prove you live in the state. With that the seller has met his responabibity as a seller.

  12. We have the right to acquire, use and dispose of our property without government interference between Virginia residents. Most prudent people ask for a resident permit to carry a concealed handgun and a bill of sale, but it is not required.

    • I have purchase contracts for EVERY sale I make. That includes cars or firearms, but it is not required for either. & i dont lie on the purchase of cars for others so they can save a little registration tax. My motto is “I don’t go to jail for nobody!”.

  13. “You also need to disarm completely, because loaded/unziptied weapons aren’t allowed in the show at all, nor are loaded magazines. So everyone with a cary gun probably leaves it in the giant, open, unpatrolled parking lots and walks around with wads of cash on them. Because safety.”

    I went to my first gun show in years and I thought how ridiculous this was. So I worked out a law abiding plan, since that’s the kind of guy I am. Take a snub .357 in a rug with you and a box of ammo in your pocket. Check it at the door. If some crazy mass murderer decides today is his day, I can be up and running in about 10 seconds. Probably not nearly as fast as 50 other vendors would be on ’em. When you leave the show, load up outside the door. Oh yeah, and bring a friend as an extra set of eyes and ears.

    I don’t know how other people manage to dance the dance to be afforded our “shall not be infringed” rights.

    • Um, cause I carry concealed. And when the folks ask if they can look in the handy, empty bag I take with me, and there’s nothing in it, they are satisfied….

  14. When I moved to Maryland in 1989, I was a little surprised to see people at shows selling handguns and long arms, with a little sign saying, “Private Sale”. A couple of years later, you had to be a dealer to sell from a table, but people still walked around the shows with signs on their backs, still selling handguns privately. Finally, in the fall of 1996, all secondary sales had to be documented and approved through the State Police.

    • “Finally, in the fall of 1996, all secondary sales had to be documented and approved through the State Police.”

      Which DOES NOT constitute a registry! (because the State Police says it doesn’t. And don’t worry your pretty little head about where the records of those sales go)

      • Of course it does constitute a registry ! Any LEO can look up, on the system, what guns are listed under your name.

        • OH YOU ARE SO WRONG. In a state like California that has it’s own gun registration system that would be correct. HOWEVER if you if you live in a state like TX that falls back on the federal system your statement would be in correct. When a 4473 is filled out and the FED is called there is no mention of make, model or serial number of a firearm. The ONLY record is THE 4473 which stays with the dealer until he sells or goes out of business. AT that time all the 4473’s go to VA.

  15. All sales in California (legal ones anyway) are documented and must be performed by an FFL. And the 4473 goes to the CalDOJ. [I don’t know if anybody has asked yet whether this info is shared with the Feds, but given the recent brouhaha in Missouri, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.] Currently, only handguns are fully documented (serial number, model, make) but long guns aren’t–until January 1. We anticipate that a bill will pass requiring that privately owned “assault weapons” will have to be registered, irrespective of date of acquisition (i.e., retroactive registration).

  16. Johnnie Cochran had a magnificent office that cost millions to furnish. When asked why, he said that he held settlement conferences there and he wanted the other side to know that they weren’t getting away cheap.

    I don’t care what the G knows about my guns for exactly the same reason.

  17. The WAC is pretty well regulated, but they do not frisk you; they trust your word on whether you have a loaded weapon on you. Sadly, there have been incidents inside shows. Luckily, no one has been hurt. It should be mentioned, if you become a member of the WAC, there is no fee to enter the shows. In addition, if you join the WAC the first time you go, they reimburse your entry fee for that day. Deals at the show? Yes, there are deals to be had. You truly have to shop around though. You can find some good prices on ammo (up until this year anyway) and there are definitely some vendors that sell firearms at reasonable prices compared to others. As one vendor put it to me when I saw his prices a two months ago: I am selling my product, others are not selling as much. Also, some advertise high prices so they can barter with you and still get their asking price. It’s a sales game, much like any retailer, just a smaller scale. It’s a good place to view and hold a wide variety of firearms, especially with many gun stores with very low stock on handguns lately. The local range/gun shop I frequent was out of AR’s and similar rifle variants for a couple months. Now they are out of handguns except for the more expensive 1911 models mostly. They finally have AR’s in, but not as many nor as high quality as they have had in the past. Ammo still in limited supply and prices are inflated compared to 6 months ago.

  18. I bought a 1911 last week, off the books. Granted it was a GSG 1911-22, but hey, $300 is $300 AND it’s off the books so I can plink away with inconsistent unreliable rounds when the rest of you get your arms confiscated! Atleast until the ammo runs out.

  19. As a WA state resident this is a good run-down, though in even forums like Northwest Firearms, a poster with some history and good feedback is preferred to some random dude on the internetz whose only post on the forum is “PLZ SELL ME GLOCK I PAY CASH”. 😉

    BTW, if you’re a gun owner who lives in WA state or OR state, c’mon in and join us!

  20. I’ve never been to a gun show, so if anyone that sees this has, please respond. Why do they make you remove loaded firearms (or unload them) upon entering? Do they do this at all gun shows? Do they have metal detectors for this? Do they have armed guards or police there? Do they allow you to bring in bullets or unloaded magazines? Thanks.

    • Gordon, the answer is safety. This is to discourage people from pulling loaded guns from their holster to sell or display for whatever reason and having confusion about which guns are loaded and which aren’t.

      Of course, we will now say that you should treat all firearms as if they are loaded. And we will say that if anyone should respect our right to keep and bear arms it should be gun shows. But, most if not all gun show sponsors or their liability carrier require that guns not be loaded.

      Every gun show that I have been to has had law enforcement on premises, I assume paid for by the show sponsor.

  21. The Wilson Combat? in the pics looks great & makes me want to get another 1911. My S&W 1911DK never missed a beat in thousands of rounds even with handloads, Randy

  22. Way back in my days of sporting clays comp. (20-years ago) I kept lusting over a dear friend’s 28ga Beretta Silver Pigeon, a rare shotgun in those days. He would not sell me his but one day at the club he told me a friend of his had a work related accident that had ruined his eyesight and could not shoot anymore, had the exact same shotgun, and would sell it to me.

    I met the guy the next day at the Bank of America parking lot (back then it was called something else). Right there in front of everyone, he opened the back of his truck and pulled the shotgun out. Not one person at the bank thought anything about it. I inspected it, found it to be in like new condition, went to the cash machine and bought it on the spot.

    I got the shotgun in the original box, a full set of chokes, original paperwork, bill of sale, two 250-round cases of primo Remington 28ga, a progressive reloading machine and 500 wads.

    Total price $800.00. Only time I’ve bought a gun FTF. Don’t think for a moment I would not have bought it just because I had just met the guy.

  23. Here in MI, the only time a 4473/0r background check isn’t done is a FTF private sale of a long gun. All pistols require registration with the state, CPL lets you skip the instant check. Private pistol transfers require a license to purchase if no CPL. Basically you go to the police station, take a quick test, they run a BG check, and give you a sales form. Seller fills it out, and the buyer has to submit that record to the state police. Retail sales no longer require the trip to the police prior to purchase, basically it’s like buying a long gun, but you get a form to submit to the PD within ten days after purchasing. Long guns just require the 4473.

  24. The issue here is 594 and how it relates. We have all the law we need, it works. FFL dealers, buy online, it goes to FFL dealer, you get checked. Can you by private, yes, but the sales are <1%. And those are typically between people who know each other, you know, family and friends. Should you sell to a person you know is planning to use a firearm illegally, you're breaking the law.

    594 is not about loopholes and background checks, it is about buying votes and leading people who don't understand the issues off the cliff of brainwashing.

  25. There’s a section on the ATF that asks for the type of weapon and the serial #. It’s not untraceable at all.

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