The rise of e-commerce has created a new challenge for law enforcement officials as an increasing number of guns are sold online, potentially avoiding regulations like background checks for buyers or licenses for sellers. To determine if private sellers advertising guns for sale on the internet are complying with federal law by refusing to sell to people who could not pass a background check, New York City officials launched an undercover investigation of private online gun sales.
The results? The investigation’s report showed that the private gun sale loophole and private sector failures lets too many “unscrupulous individuals” sell guns online and “too many dangerous people” buy them.
The New York City report showed that 62 percent of private gun sellers agreed to sell a gun to a person who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check even though private sellers are prohibited from selling to prohibited purchasers, including those who indicate that they probably couldn’t pass a background check. Here are the failure rates of websites included in the New York investigation:
The report’s authors had these recommendations for how to stop illegal gun sales happening online:
• Federal law should require a background check for every gun sale. Legislation now pending in both chambers of Congress – The Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 (S.436/H.R.1781 (112th Congress)) – would enact this reform.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) should improve enforcement of existing laws. ATF should conduct undercover investigations on a variety of websites, track whether guns recovered in crimes were originally sold online and offer online tutorials to train sellers and buyers on federal gun laws governing online sales.
• Websites should adopt tougher protocols to deter crime. Websites that permit gun sales should demand transparency from sellers and buyers, facilitate reporting of suspicious behavior by site users and swiftly remove prohibited listings.
Following the report, a national bipartisan coalition of mayors launched a campaign urging websites that host online gun advertisements to take steps to reduce illegal firearms sales. But if the websites do not willingly change their practices to help stop illegal gun sales, it is uncertain if there would be support for legislation to force changes because of the National Rifle Association’s fierce opposition to any changes to gun control laws. The group even refused to support closing the private gun sales loophole that does not require background checks after al Qaeda encouraged sympathizers to use it, so why would they support changes to online private sales?