Former Gun Show Promoter Urges Background Checks

Former Gun Show Promoter Urges Background Checks

By Ben Hall. CREATED Feb 20, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- On any given weekend, hundreds of people line up to attend gun shows.  

NewsChannel 5 Investigates recently went inside two of them.  

We saw licensed gun dealers selling from tables, doing the background checks they are required to do.  

But they weren't the only ones selling guns at the show.

We saw dozens of private sellers off to the sides and in the parking lot, selling everything from handguns to semi-automatic rifles.

Private sellers are not required to run a background check. Instead, they can sell almost any gun without a check -- the so-called gun show loophole.

What we found is not illegal, but longtime gun show promoter Bob Pope says it's not right.

"The gun show loophole should be closed.  It should be closed forever," Pope said.

Pope is a lifetime, benefactor member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), who owns hundreds of guns.

"I've got so many guns in here I don't know where they all are," Pope said, as he showed us around the room where he keeps his guns.

But Pope disagrees with the NRA's position on background checks. 

He believes everyone who buys a gun should get a background check.

"Who out there believes that a felon should be allowed to come into a show and buy a gun?" Pope said.

NewsChannel5 Investigates asked, "Do you think that's happening?"

Pope responded, "Sure it was."

"And it's happening all the time?" we asked.

Pope said, "It's happening every gun show."

In fact, in a recent documentary that aired on the History Channel, the founder of a Nashville gang,  Brown Pride, bragged that he easily got guns at gun shows.

"You can get them from a gun show," he said.  "You ain't got to show no permit or nothing."

The law is written that way so that people can easily sell a gun to their neighbor without the hassle of a background check.  

But sometimes private sales at gun shows involve people who buy and sell guns on a mass scale.

That's what prosecutors say Kevin Dawson did.  

Court papers show that he behaved like a gun dealer traveling to gun shows across the state "about every weekend" selling guns for profit.  

At a Chattanooga gun show in 2011, he sold a gun to Jesse Mathews. 

It was a private transaction, with no background check.

Just two days later, Mathews used a different gun to kill police Sgt. Tim Chapin.  

It turns out Matthews was a felon, on the run from the law after escaping from a halfway house in Colorado.

After a lengthy investigation, federal agents arrested Kevin Dawson and confiscated more than 300 guns.  

He plead guilty to conspiracy to sell firearms without a license.

Proof, some say, of the need to close the gun show loophole.

But state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, says a law like that will just be another burden on responsible gun owners.

"Universal background checks will never work," Niceley said.

"Out in the country, nobody's going to pay any attention to it, and you're just making criminals out of those honest people," Niceley continued.

But Bob Pope says honest people have nothing to fear and he's pushing state lawmakers to start background checks at gun shows.

"If this prevents one incident a year, one incident, it's well worth it," Pope said.

Many opponents worry universal background checks will lead to gun registration, and later, gun confiscation. 

Bob Pope opposes that and says it's why this is such an emotionally charged issue.

Pope is proposing that every gun show have a TBI agent at a table near the entrance.  

The agent would run an instant check on every gun sold.  

Pope says there should be no charge for people with a carry permit.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

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Ben Hall is a veteran reporter at NewsChannel 5. He has covered the state legislature, presidential campaigns and is presently part of NewsChannel 5's award-winning investigative unit.