You’re surrounded by rows of tables stacked with every conceivable sort of firearm—revolvers, shotguns, bolt-action rifles, tactical guns, carry guns, hunting guns, air guns and target pistols; guns with red dots, lasers, holographic sights and scopes; black guns, brown guns, shiny guns, camouflage guns, old guns and new guns.
This arms market is flooded with cash-carrying buyers, many of them wearing, concealing or carrying guns. Many of them bring their own guns for sale.
This is not a scene from “The Matrix,” nor are you in an Afghan arms bazaar. You’re in Tulsa, Okla., home of Wanenmacher’s Tulsa Arms Show, the largest such gun show in the entire world.
Anti-gunners portray gun shows as candy stores for criminals. Chicago’s leaders blame their astronomical murder rates on gun shows in Indiana; Michael Bloomberg’s private investigators bought guns at Virginia gun shows to make a point (which earned him a rebuke from the Department of Justice).
Can bad guys just walk into a gun show and walk out with an Uzi, no background check required? Do gun shows leave a trail of crime in their wake? Just what is your VX around a gun show, anyway?
In truth, the life of a criminal is hard. The hours suck, the pay is short. You get into fights, you lose your driver’s license, you have to go to court and your significant other is pissed because you’re in jail. And all your friends are thieves, so … yeah.
Who chooses such a life? Ask cops, and they will invariably tell you: dumb people.
Case in point: I recently went on a ride-along with officer Craig Calkins of the Colorado Springs Police Department. A driver had high-centered his pickup truck on a tree stump, and at least two dozen Budweiser cans had spilled out when he and his friends took off on foot. A taxi with three rubberneckers cruised slowly through the scene. Minutes later, the truck owner called 911 to say his truck had been stolen. He claimed he had chased the thieves on foot for five blocks before losing them, but he couldn’t explain why his truck was pointed back toward his apartment. In 2015, 91 of these criminal masterminds were arrested in Virginia (where Bloomberg ran into trouble) trying to buy guns at gun shows.
You have probably already guessed that Flash was one of the taxi passengers.
In 2015, 91 of these criminal masterminds were arrested in Virginia (where Bloomberg ran into trouble) trying to buy guns at gun shows. Many of them were arrested for failing a background check. It’s a felony for those barred from gun ownership to attempt to buy a gun, yet these geniuses put their personal info on an ATF form and sent it to the federal government. It would have been easier to just wear an “Arrest Me” sign to the show—if only they could spell.
Conversely, cops are smart. They know some of these … uh, justice-involved individuals will come to gun shows, so they come to arrest them. Why chase them through the streets on Friday night when they might come to you on Saturday morning?
All this law enforcement presence at gun shows makes it hard to buy a gun if you’re not supposed to. They’re backed up by licensed gun dealers, who overwhelmingly refuse to sell guns without a background check. Taken together, gun shows make a poor choice for illegal purchasers.
That’s why so few criminals buy guns there. A 2015 University of Chicago Crime Lab study “found that due to fears of encountering undercover police officers attempting sting operations, a large majority of the criminals surveyed would only make illegal gun purchases from people they knew.”
Felons don’t want to risk the federal background check system; they ask cousin Leon. Maybe criminals aren’t so dumb, after all.
Wanenmacher’s Tulsa Arms Show is the largest gun show in America; 35,000 people attended the 2015 show. The show’s website says 4,200 tables of firearm vendors snake for 5.7 miles through the Expo Square at the Tulsa Fairgrounds. In order to see all of them, you would have to average just 15.4 seconds at each table during the two days of the show.
Mike Eckert, commander of the Tulsa Police Department Special Operations team, told me, “We have no intel that that is where gangbangers are going to get firearms.” He says anonymity is the criminal element’s friend: They don’t want to risk the public scrutiny associated with being in an 11-acre venue with thousands of people. They buy their guns from a trusted source—someone with whom they have a “working relationship.” They buy their guns from a trusted source—someone with whom they have a “working relationship.”
Eckert also investigated crime stats surrounding Wanenmacher’s Tulsa Arms Show. “There was no data to indicate there was anything even going on that weekend,” he said. “As far as crime directly related to the buying and selling of guns, that is so negligible I can’t even offer you a number on it. It’s as close to zero as I can offer.”
We gave the VX Gun Show Task Force the job of determining the VX of communities with gun shows. They gave each community 100 basis points, and then added or subtracted points for increased or decreased vulnerability. (If you disagree with their findings, include #GetYourOwnIndex in your tweet.)
What is the community’s VX when:
Jeremy gets out of jail on probation (+25 pts). It’s his 19th arrest (+50 pts). His girlfriend traded his handgun for crack cocaine (+50 pts), which annoys him (+100 pts). Jeremy has a history of poor decisions (+200 pts), and now makes another: He tests his luck by submitting to a background check at that weekend’s gun show. Sheriff’s deputies arrest Jeremy, who goes back to jail (-500 pts).
In order to be cool, Walter joins his neighborhood drug gang (+500 pts). Within a year, he is arrested six times for possession with intent to distribute (-200 pts), three times for assault (-200 pts) and twice for burglary (-250 pts). To avoid jail time, he rats out his co-workers, which annoys them (+1,000). Preferring to be “judged by 12 instead of being carried by six,” Walter goes to the gun show to buy a handgun for protection, where he is arrested by sheriff’s deputies and returned to jail (-1,500 pts).
Johnny wants to join ISIS (+500), but can’t afford a plane ticket to Yemen. Turning his attention locally, he finds a video online by Jihad Joe telling him how easy it is to “go to a gun show at a convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check.” Johnny goes to that weekend’s gun show and asks for directions to the automatic weapons. He finds none, but annoys enough dealers to get the attention of local law enforcement. Two weeks later, he is arrested in a sting operation run by undercover ATF agents (-2,500 pts).
Addendum: The above VX research results were presented at city council meetings in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark and Baltimore. Shocked, councilors voted unanimously to host weekly gun shows at various venues in order to arrest and jail criminals who fail background checks (-5,000 pts).
Nah, just kidding.