News Local/State

At An Indiana Gun Show: Divided Opinions On President’s Gun Control Initiatives


President Barack Obama is continuing to make his case that more needs to be done to curb gun violence. This week he outlined a series of executive steps that includes broader background checks. Gun-friendly states like Indiana have long resisted those measures. But some gun owners there agree more could be done.

One of the executive actions President Obama is pushing would tighten the so-called “gun show loophole.” That’s where private sellers are not required to conduct a background check.

 Anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks or be subject to criminal prosecutions," said Obama. "It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it over the internet or at a gun show."

Gun shows are big business in the Hoosier state. You can find one happening nearly every month in Northwest Indiana. Crown Point hosted one in December at the Lake County Fairgrounds. That’s where I run into Nick, a Schererville resident who declined to give his last name.

I asked Nick whether these gun shows get a bad rap, with some saying it's easier to get guns at them.

"Here’s why it’s easier," said Nick. "You have actually people from gun shops who have tables in there. They have your form that you fill out for the ATF and they call in your background check to the NCIS immediately. The only way to get it without is if it’s a private seller. That’s your loophole."

Nick isn’t sure closing that loophole will make much of a difference.

"Look at the gangbangers in Chicago," said Nick. "Do you think they all have carry cards? No. We need more laws? No you don’t. You need to enforce the laws you have."

But those in favor of universal background checks say that law doesn’t exist.

"There are individuals at these gun shows that are skirting the law," said Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, whose office is just down the road from the gun show. "They are called private dealers. And also, what we found is that in the parking lots of a lot of these gun shows, individuals will conduct illegal sales."

Law enforcement officials say many of those guns end up on the streets of Chicago and contribute to violence.

Back at the gun show, Felix Gonzalez of Chicago walks out with two big bags of bullets. He says tougher gun controls ultimately hurt law-abiding citizens.

"It punishes the railroad worker who lives in some of these bad areas, the young middle-class black family who basically has been denied the right to protect themselves and their family," said Gonzalez.

Inside the show, a crowd of hunters and sportsmen peruse tables filled with semi-automatic rifles, pistols and bullets of every size. One of the vendors is Tom Huffman, a retired police officer from Kokomo, Indiana. He’s federally licensed and performs background checks right on the spot.

"I can sell a gentleman a gun," said Huffman. "It will go through, be perfectly fine, because he cleared all the background checks. Takes it home, keeps it a couple of weeks, sells it to his neighbor. His neighbor has no background check or anything."

Huffman says that’s where the problem lies.   

"If we didn’t have the private sales and things, it would stop a lot of these guns getting into the wrong hands," he said.

In his speech on Tuesday, President Obama said a majority of gun owners support stricter background checks. But not Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas. The southern Indiana Republican is one of the National Rifle Association’s biggest supporters.

"And what the president did today, it did nothing," said Lucas. "Every mass shooter, or the vast majority of them, have passed background checks. And the Department of Justice has shown that less than 2 percent of criminals get their guns from gun shows."

On the same day Obama outlined his executive orders, Lucas introduced his own two pieces of legislation at the Indiana statehouse. Both bills are aimed at expanding -- not reducing -- access to guns.

(Michael Puente reports from the Northwest Indiana Bureau of Chicago public radio station WBEZ).