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Buying a Gun Is So Easy 'It Doesn't Make Sense'

A look at the process involved in someone buying a gun — or being denied.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday recommended several measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people who shouldn’t be allowed to own a deadly weapon.

A main tenet of his plan involves requiring anyone who sells a gun to obtain a license, which would then mean they would have to perform background checks on any potential gun buyer.

The measure is designed, in part, to keep guns from being sold without background checks at gun shows, privately and online, in what is often referred to as the “gun law loophole.” Obama announced that regulators would crack down on dealers who use these loopholes to avoid acquiring licenses, thereby skirting the requirement to perform background checks.

“We’ve created a system in which dangerous people are allowed to play by a different set of rules,” Obama said Tuesday. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Here's how that system currently works:

Where are guns sold?

In the U.S., there are more than 55,000 licensed gun dealers, according to a 2015 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report. That includes everything from small privately-owned gun shops and sporting goods stores to big chain stores that carry guns, like WalMart. Additionally, there are more than 8,000 pawn shops that are licensed to sell guns, according to the ATF.

Both licensed gun dealers and pawn shops are required by federal law to conduct background checks when selling guns. But not every gun-buyer goes the gun store route, and in a majority of states, gun sellers that aren’t licensed aren’t required to perform a background check, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Only 13 states require a background check to be performed no matter how a gun is sold or what kind of gun it is, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In most states, guns can be sold between private parties like friends or acquaintances, but commonly these background-check-free gun sales occur are at gun shows.

Since 1994, background checks have prohibited more than 2.4 million gun purchases, but 40 percent of guns sold in the U.S. are still sold with “no questions asked,” according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “large numbers of firearms are sold anonymously” at more than 4,000 gun shows each year. That averages to about 11 gun shows on any given day.

Related: Obama Announcement Puts Gun Control at Center of 2016 Campaign

Guns can also be advertised online, but according to federal law, the actual sale of the firearm must happen at a licensed brick-and-mortar store, where it would be required to perform a background check as usual.

Obama said Tuesday that some gun sellers have been operating on the Internet without conducting background checks and that a study of one such site showed one in 30 people looking to buy a gun there had a criminal record.

What does the background check entail?

A system implemented in 1998 called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) amended 1991’s Brady Act, which originally mandated licensed gun sellers to conduct a background check, which came with a five-day waiting period.

But NICS, as indicated by its name, is designed to be instantaneous. In 2014, NICS achieved a 91 percent “immediate determination rate,” according to the FBI.

The other 9 percent are cases in which the FBI needs more time to check out the potential buyer. If the process, which usually includes contacting local authorities, can’t be completed in three business days, the licensed dealer can still sell the gun with an incomplete background check.

Related: Mistakes in Dylann Roof's Background Check Fuel Gun Law Debate

What keeps someone from buying a gun?

Nine types of people can be disqualified by a background check, including felons, fugitives, undocumented immigrants, drug addicts and people committed to mental institutions, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

People who federally aren't allowed to buy guns:

  • Felons
  • Fugitives
  • Drug addicts or unlawful drug users
  • Persons committed to mental institutions or adjudicated as "mentally defective"
  • Persons dishonorably discharged from the armed forces
  • Persons who have renounced their United States citizenship
  • Illegal or nonimmigrant aliens
  • Persons subject to certain domestic violence restraining orders
  • Persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence

Licensed dealers are also prohibited from selling handguns to people under the age of 21 and rifles and shotguns to people under the age of 18, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Unlicensed sellers can’t sell handguns to anyone under the age of 18, but can “sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer a long gun or long gun (a rifle or shotgun) ammunition to a person of any age,” according to the Law Center.

Does the gun buyer need a license to own or carry?

Federal law does not require gun owners or purchasers to get a license, but 14 states mandate licensing to own all types or some types of guns, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Federal law also doesn’t restrict the open carrying of firearms in public, and 31 states allow the open carrying of a handgun without any license or permit, the Law Center reports.

How much does it cost to buy a gun?

At some retailers, including the chain Bass Pro Shops and some mom and pop gun stores, a customer can walk out with a rifle for just over $100 or a handgun for as little as $200.