NYC Investigation Finds Illegal Gun Sales Are Thriving Online

Personally, I've noticed a pretty distinct geographic split on gun laws between ordinary people (i.e. non-cops) who live in cities -- and everyone else. People who live in rural or suburban areas are a lot more attached to having few restrictions, and seem more likely to vote for those running against gun control. Most city dwellers I know are strongly in favor of gun control, maybe because gun-related crimes are so much more common here. There's got to be some middle ground somewhere, because some days, it's like the Wild West out here.

Last week, the City of New York announced a first-of-its-kind undercover investigation of illegal online gun sales. The video above features the actual audio from the investigation, which covered 125 sellers from 14 different states, using 10 different websites. Enforcing this particular loophole seems like something reasonable people should be able to support, right?

Their recommendations are as follows:

The evidence that online sales pose a threat to public safety is mounting. Sales conducted over the internet have been connected to mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, the murder of police officers, illegal sales to minors, domestic gun trafficking operations and Mexican drug cartels.

In 2011, the City of New York launched an unprecedented undercover investigation of private firearms sales online. Our investigators set out to determine whether 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.
The following report sets forth our findings and makes recommendations for government and private-sector
reforms to prevent criminals and other prohibited purchasers from easily acquiring illegal guns online.
The results:

  • 62 percent of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check.
  • City investigators posing as illegal purchasers asked five of these sellers to meet in person and exchange the guns for cash. All five agreed. The investigators bought four handguns and a semi-automatic assault rifle while recording the transaction with hidden cameras.
  • Private sellers on Craigslist had the highest failure rate – roughly 82 percent – even though the site has a policy prohibiting firearms listings. The City also investigated unlicensed sellers on Armslist (54% failure rate), Gunlistings (77% failure rate), KSL.com (67% failure rate) and Glocktalk (78% failure rate).

The private sale loophole and the private-sector failures that enable too many unscrupulous individuals to sell
guns online, and too many dangerous people to buy them, should be reformed. It is entirely possible to do so without restraining the legal trade in firearms among law-abiding sellers and buyers.

Our recommendations:

  • 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.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters’ mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

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