DAVIS -- From pocket-size assault weapons and sniper rifles that can kill a man a mile-and-a-half away to incendiary armor-piercing bullets, you can find what you're looking for at gun shows across the United States.

Even if you don't want your name to appear on any paperwork.

In hidden-camera photos and videos captured by researchers at the University of California, Davis, men roamed gun shows with assault rifles slung over their shoulders and pistols tucked in their belts, available for sale with no waiting period, background check or paper trail.

And even at licensed dealers, some with more than 1,000 pistols and rifles at a single booth, there were illegal "straw buys" in which real gun buyers concealed their identities by getting other people to put down their names for the paperwork and background checks. In some cases, the dealer obviously recognized the straw buy but sold the firearm anyway.

These methods are a leading source of guns used in crimes, said Garen Wintemute, the professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine who conducted the study called "Inside Guns Shows: What Goes on When Everybody Thinks Nobody's Watching."

Guns bought from dealers that sell at gun shows are more likely to be used in violent crimes than guns from other dealers, according to earlier research by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. And Mexican drug cartels buy most of their guns in the United States, because it's easier than buying in Mexico, Wintemute said.


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In trips to 78 gun shows, UC Davis researchers captured the culture of gun shows, where white nationalist, neo-Nazi and neo-confederate literature sometimes sits alongside guns and ammunition, according to the report and its photos.

Gun shows account for a minority of gun sales in the United States. And half to two-thirds of gun purchases at gun shows are from licensed dealers. But they are the most visible place to see unregulated gun sales, according to the report.

California's gun laws are much more strict than those in most other states, Wintemute said. Sales from one private individual to another must go through a licensed dealer, and California law enforcement officers keep close tabs on gun shows.

Federal law requires licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks, but does not regulate gun shows or transactions between individuals.

"California is a good example of the fact that you can regulate gun commerce ... without putting (gun shows) out of business," Wintemute said.

He said he almost never saw individual sales or straw buys in California. But large gun shows take place in Reno and Phoenix.

"You just drive across the border. Everybody knows that," Wintemute said.

To keep guns out of the hands of criminals, ATF should step up its presence at shows -- officers only go to about 3 percent of shows now, and only respond to complaints. And sales between individuals should also be subject to background checks, Wintemute said.

National Rifle Association Spokeswoman Vickie Cieplak disagrees. Gun shows are safe, community events where licensed dealers are well-regulated, she said.

And regulating individual sales would be an unnecessary burden on people trying to sell family collections of guns, she said.

Solano County Sheriff Gary Stanton said he supports the laws already on the books and what's needed now is better enforcement, not more laws.

"You always have this line between the people who buy and possess guns and use them legally ... and those that don't," he said. "It's a really delicate balance."

Stolen -- or otherwise illegally possessed -- firearms often turn up in Solano cases involving drugs, he said, and the suspects are usually arrested. The ensuing adjudication process, however, is out of the law enforcement community's hands.

Programs such as Saturday's gun buy-back effort in Fairfield help alleviate the issue, Stanton said, by getting what he calls "junk guns" off the streets. They may fall apart after a few shootings, he explained, but they're nonetheless good for one or two shots. By getting that gun off the street, it may be saving a life, he said.

"It's a combination of law enforcement and the community working together," Stanton said. "That's how it works. It's a good program."

Reporter staff writer Kimberly K. Fu contributed to this report.