The United States' gun-show loophole is as wide open as it's ever been. Any private citizen with a cache of firearms can still sell them to any other private citizen without conducting a background check, as licensed dealers are required to do, because freedom.
There's a catch. The loophole, gaping though it may be, is not quite wide enough to accommodate a couple of sketchy foreign nationals stockpiling weapons for shipment to a former Soviet Republic.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, aspiring international arms dealers Fedor Belov and Aleksandr Yezersky of Kazakhstan learned this the hard way over the weekend when they were arrested following a gun-shopping expedition at The Original Fort Worth Gun Show.
It was only an hour-and-a-half after the gun show opened on Saturday morning that the pair attracted the suspicion of the cops. At around 10:30 a.m., a licensed firearms dealer said two foreign guys had negotiated the purchase of a pistol but had backed out of the deal when he told them they would have to fill out a "firearm transaction record," an ATF form that records detailed personal information about gun purchasers.
For the next hour and a half, plain-clothes law enforcement officers tailed Belov and Yezersky as they went from vendor to vendor. They were clearly looking for unlicensed dealers selling Glock, Sig Sauer, or Smith and Wesson pistols. When they would find a gun they liked, one of the men would make a phone call or send a text message. The conversations were in Russian, so the cops that were tailing them couldn't understand what was being said, but they "recognized that activity indicative of a person that is taking orders for specific firearms and is seeking approval from an unknown subject for permission to buy that firearm at a certain price," according to an ATF officer's affidavit.
Occasionally, seemingly by accident, Belov and Yezersky would start negotiating with a licensed firearm dealer. With one, they struck a deal to pay $536 for a Kel Tec pistol. Only after Belov pulled a wad of cash from his pocket did the dealer hand him a clipboard and tell him he had to fill out the firearm transaction form. Belov appeared nervous as he took the clipboard and handed the form to Yezersky, who filled it out and handed the dealer a Texas driver's license investigators later determined to be fake. The dealer looked it over and, though Yezersky swore he was buying the gun for his own personal use, said he'd have to undergo an instant background check. The two men grabbed the wad of cash and left the booth.
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The cops confronted Belov and Yezersky as they were loading their purchases into a Toyota minivan. Belov initially told investigators that he had bought the guns for his personal collection, but Yezersky had already told them when interviewed separately that Belov was planning to smuggle them back to his native Kazakhstan. Asked whether this were true, Belov nodded, according to the ATF.
After that, the two men copped to everything. Belov had arrived in the U.S. on October 6 on a tourism visa. He'd hooked up with Yezersky, a longtime California resident, because his English was better. The men had left Sacramento that Thursday and arrived in Fort Worth around midnight on the day of the gun show. They had planned to drive back to California with the guns hidden in their minivan. Yezersky said Belov planned to conceal the guns in a shipment of auto parts on a Kazakhstan-bound cargo ship, but Belov told the ATF that plans had changed. He needed to sell the guns quickly, so rather than wait for the three months it would take the cargo ship to cross the Pacific, he had decided to use Fed Ex.
Both men were arrested on charges of alien in possession of a firearm.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.