Last week, four people in Colorado offered to sell me Smith & Wesson M&P15; assault rifles, the same weapon used by James Holmes in the Aurora theater massacre last year. In each case, the seller neither required nor requested a background check to make sure I wasn’t a criminal or mentally ill.
If that sounds bizarre, it should. 91 percent of Americans support a law requiring anyone who purchases a gun anywhere to first pass a background check. And yet, in Colorado and most states, private gun sales are exempted from such a requirement.
This was on full display last week when we visited ArmsList.com, a Craigslist-style site that deals solely in firearms. We searched “Smith & Wesson M&P15;” in the Colorado listings and instantly found dozens of sellers. A few emails later, we had four people willing to sell us the gun that same day, no questions asked. When we inquired whether we’d need to do a background check or any paperwork to obtain the assault rifle, we met the same response every time: no.
When I asked one man whether a background check was required, he said he was simply “assuming” I am not a felon and am “a good and decent person that will not use this carbine to commit a crime and of course a sane and normal human being.” “If that is indeed the case,” he continued, “no background check is required by law in the state of Colorado.” A few wanted to do a “bill of sale,” a personal document showing that they had sold the gun to me “in the event you do something stupid with the rifle,” as one seller wrote. However, they were careful to note that this is only for their own records, not the government’s.
See samples from their responses below:
We did not ultimately purchase any of the weapons, both because we didn’t want assault rifles and because Colorado law requires you to be a resident in order to make such a purchase. The inquiries are illustrative, though, of just how easy it is for someone to legally obtain a firearm.
To reiterate, none of these sellers broke the law. Background checks are required at gun shows and gun stores, but not for private online sales, which account for 40 percent of gun transactions in the United States. That’s why closing the gun show loophole isn’t enough. Requiring background checks in some places but not others is like locking three of your car doors, leaving one unlocked, and expecting that car to be secure. Unless background checks are universal, criminals are able to buy weapons online without a single red flag going up.
However, that could soon change. In Colorado, State Rep. Rhonda Fields (D), whose district includes the Aurora theater, has introduced a bill that would close the private sales loophole and require universal background checks for firearms purchasers. Such a move is also being debated in Congress.