The gun-show loophole seems to have shrunk

If you follow debates in Virginia’s General Assembly, you might get the impression that the state could sharply curtail the violent-crime rate if only lawmakers would close the “gun-show loophole.” New data suggest the impression is mistaken.

Federally licensed firearm dealers must conduct a background check on prospective purchasers, but private sellers don’t have to. That’s true regardless of whether the transaction takes place at a gun show or not. Yet to hear advocates and some legislators talk, you’d think gun shows provide hardened criminals with a steady stream of easy weapons.

In fact, the claim has never held up well. Most criminals get their guns through other means, such as “sharing arrangements with fellow gang members,” according to a recent item in Newsweek. A survey of prison inmates by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that gun shows accounted for less than 1 percent of the firearms used by felons.

That survey is two decades old now, but evidence to contradict it does not seem to have surfaced. Meanwhile, new data about a Virginia law suggests that it probably still holds up. The law, part of a compromise between the GOP-held Assembly and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, provides for voluntary background checks at gun shows.