Feds: A Texas Man Waltzed Through the Gun Show Loophole and Bought Dozens of Mexico-Bound Assault Rifles

Talk of closing the so-called "gun show loophole," like talk of gun control in general, has died down in recent months. Partly, this is the inevitable ebb of the rage that followed Sandy Hook; partly, it's because it seems futile to talk about something Congress has made clear it has no interest in doing. The loophole, meanwhile, which basically allows anyone who's not a licensed firearm dealer to buy or sell guns without a waiting period or background check, remains as gaping as ever.

It may or may not comfort you to know that the federal government is keeping an eye on these gun shows. They kept a particularly close eye on a man named Luis Pina Romano from Corpus Christi.

According to documents filed Thursday in federal court, Romano has spent the past four years crisscrossing the state of Texas, paying frequent visits to gun shows in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and elsewhere in Texas.

At each stop, his routine was the same: He would seek out the individual sellers, to whom reporting requirements and rules on background checks don't apply, produce a large amount of cash, and buy all the assault weapons he could find. His May 4 trip to the Original Fort Worth Gun Show at the Will Rogers Center was typical. There, he spent $10,000 and came away 16 guns and a decent cache of ammunition.

That was all perfectly fine -- at least it would have been had Romano merely been building his own personal stockpile. What he was actually doing, the feds say, was selling the guns for a $500 profit to a couple of guys, who would then turn around and ship them into Mexico. At least four pistols he bought between 2001 and 2005 have since turned up there.

Had Romano sold the guns directly to people in Mexico, one imagines he'd be facing criminal charges right now. Instead, the government has filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit claiming that he was illegally dealing guns without a license and seeking $24,100. That, according to the suit, is a combination of what he was carrying when was arrested leaving the gun show in Fort Worth on May 5 and what they found in Corpus Christi the next day.

That represents a small fraction of Romano's estimated profits from a decade of dealing guns. Between 2001 and 2009, he bought multiple guns on at least 20 occasions. To his two known customers, he'd sold at least five dozen assault rifles, probably more.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson