Guns, Politics, and Freedom
June 2001

Strange bedfellows & the ‘gun show loophole’

By F. Paul Valone


The following column was published by The Charlotte Observer in June, 2001 under the title “Strange bedfellows and guns.”


Whatever your views on guns, behold a Machiavellian tale of the North Carolina Senate in which the NRA has allied itself with a gun control organization called North Carolinians “Against Gun Violence” (NCGV) to close the mythical “gun show loophole” and register private gun sales with the FBI.


“Mythical?”  Aren’t gun shows, as Mr. Clinton once preached, “Tupperware parties for criminals”?  After all, Senator Charles Schumer alleges: “You’re a criminal, you want to get a gun, you can’t get it from a dealer, go to a show.”


In reality, when buying a firearm from a federally licensed dealer—whether at a store or a gun show—you must undergo a criminal background check, typically via the National Instant Check System (NICS).


But what about “unlicensed dealers?”  Answer: Profiting from selling firearms without a federal license has been illegal since 1968.  When Handgun Control, Inc. claims “25-50 percent of the vendors at…gun shows are unlicensed,” its clever deception includes merchants who don’t sell guns but rather books, knives and accessories.


Nor are private sales entirely exempt from background checks.  In North Carolina, [begin ital] all [end ital] handgun transactions require a purchase permit, issued by a sheriff after a check.  Gun show proposals add to the scheme only by registering private sales with the FBI through the NICS, which retains transaction records in violation of federal laws.


But back to our little intrigue.  The NRA, trying to pass legislation restricting cities from suing gun makers, is chronically frustrated in the Senate.  No matter how they kiss up to Senate leader Marc Basnight (including an undeserved endorsement), he denies them a committee hearing.


Likewise, despite hiring big-buck lobbyists, NCGV is thwarted in its many attempts to impede gun shows.  (Since voters rejected gun control in the 1994 and 2000 elections, even Democrats are loath to stand up against gun owners).


But Mecklenburg Senator Fountain Odom and lobbyist Joe McClees, aided by Nicole Palya, an ambitious if gullible NRA representative, have ended the standoff by allowing both to be merged into a single “Jekyll & Hyde” bill.


In May, Palya informed me that Odom would amend Senate Bill 680, the NRA’s moribund gun litigation proposal, to include all of SB 1097, an equally comatose gun show bill.  In exchange, the Senate leadership (read that “Basnight”) would give the resulting legislation a hearing in the Finance Committee.


The likely deal-maker is McClees, who seems to have his fingers in the pockets of most politicians in the legislature.  Less clear, however, is whose interests McClees holds most dear.  Lobbyists, you see, constitute the world’s second oldest profession.  Although previously McClees didn’t bother to register as an NRA lobbyist (his firm representing them nonetheless), he is currently registered not only for the NRA, but for a mélange of others ranging from The Firearms Dealers Group to The Portable Toilet Group.


Sen. Odom’s motivations are equally suspect.  Although touting his NRA endorsement and sponsoring their bills, he also surfaces amid anti-gun efforts.  In 1995, his subcommittee gutted the bill for our present concealed handgun law.  When he threw the NRA a bone with a minor amendment to his own hatchet-job, they rewarded him with an “A+” rating.


Presently, the NRA is handing out brochures lauding the benefits of SB 680 in restricting suits against gun makers…while neglecting to tell NRA members the bill also requires them to register private gun sales.  Palya is even infuriating NRA’s Republican supporters by ignoring Representative Wayne Sexton’s straightforward gun litigation bill, even though it resoundingly passed the House and also resides in the Senate…where it’s being held hostage by NRA-endorsed Sen. Basnight.


Nor do the players want you watching their double-cross: When volunteers from my organization tried to videotape Odom’s committee presentation (we often tape committees), Democrats ejected them from the allegedly public meeting.


Lurking behind the scenes, NCGV lobbyists Bruce Thompson and Al Adams, who drafted the original gun show language, cheerfully let the NRA, Senate Democrats and McClees do their bidding.


Everybody wins.  The NRA “succeeds” in limiting gun litigation, Odom and Basnight push gun control under cover of NRA endorsements, NCGV registers private gun sales, and McClees rakes in money.


Well, everybody except you, of course.  If you support gun shows, understand the NRA offered no objections when the Finance Committee passed SB 680.  If you want gun makers sued into oblivion, understand that NCGV was equally mute.  In pol-speak, you see, “compromise” is just another word for sellout.