Detectives in Portland got a hot lead when they found that the bullet that fatally wounded Darien Richardson came from a gun that was used in another homicide a month later.

They traced the gun back to its manufacturer and from there to a gun shop and then to a private owner. But that’s where the trail went cold.

The .45 caliber handgun had been sold at a gun show and the original owner had no record of who bought it. Three years after Richardson was shot, her killer is still unknown.

The stalled investigation is a prime example of what is known as the “gun show loophole,” which makes background checks optional for everyone who is not a licensed firearm dealer.

It’s not just at gun shows that private sales go unrecorded. Anyone can sell a gun to anyone else without checking to see if they are authorized to own one. An estimated 40 percent of gun sales happen without a required background check.

This is more than just a little hole in the system; it’s a chasm.

If a felon, a person who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or someone under a domestic violence restraining order is on the honor system when buying a gun, the background check system can’t really work.

Closing the loophole would be an important step toward keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

This is not about the activities protected by the Second Amendment. Requiring all gun sellers to follow the same laws does not interfere with legal gun ownership, but it does plug some of the leaks in the system.

Law-abiding gun owners would not be restricted in any way, but people who are not legally permitted to buy a gun would have a much more difficult time doing so.

No system is perfect and a well-connected criminal likely would still be able to get his hands on guns, but making background checks mandatory would reduce the number of guns that ultimately end up in the black market. And it would have led police a step or two closer to Richardson’s killer.

Eleven horrific mass killings in the two years since Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot while meeting with constituents have raised calls for new gun laws that would better protect the public.

But we should also do a better job enforcing the laws that we have.

If background checks are required in 60 percent of sales, they should be required in 100 percent of them.

The gun show loophole should be closed for good.

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