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Online Classifieds Is The Latest Loophole for Gun Nuts To Evade FBI Background Checks

A new report traces how dangerous people easily buy guns.
 
 
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They were people who wanted a gun to fix their problems. They were known to police for assaulting lovers and spouses, using guns in violent crimes and being addicts. They knew that they would fail the FBI’s background checks, so they went online and found private gun sellers who took their cash and asked few questions.

Wisconson’s Radcliffe Haughton was under court order to stay away from his wife Zina Daniel. But he went to Armslist.com in October 2012 and bought a Glock handgun that he used the next day to kill her and two co-workers before commiting suicide. In Illinois the previous April, Dmitry Smirnov also bought a gun on Armslist that he used to kill Jitka Vesel, after stalking her to her job and shooting her 11 times in the parking lot.

Armslist.com is like a Craigslist for firearms. Created by “gun owning and gun loving Americans” in 2009, it takes no responsibility for whatever transpires “in transactions between parties,” it states. Yet it is at the forefront of one of the biggest loopholes in America’s gun laws: private sales that evade FBI criminal background checks.   

Thirty-four states allow local online gun sales without the FBI checks that registered gun dealers in every state must conduct. An investigative report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns looked at sales at Armslist.com earlier this year and concluded that “tens of thousands” of people who would have failed the federal checks gt guns anyway because of the private sales loophole.

“Convicted felons, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people who are legally barred from buying guns can do so online with little more than a phone number or email,” New York City Mayor Micheal Bloomberg said. “As our investigation shows, thousands of criminals and other prohibited purchasers are doing just that.”

The Mayors’ study found “the share of criminals purchasing guns on Armslist is nearly four times higher than the share attempting to purchase guns at licensed dealers, finding that “one in 30 would-be buyers on Armslist have criminal records that bar them from owning guns.” It stated, “Our findings suggest that tens of thousands of criminals now use the online private sale loophole to acquire illegal guns.” 

This conclusion comes from a remarkable investigation. The mayors wanted to how prohibited purchasers could get a gun online and how often this occurred. They looked at 13,298 “want-to-buy” listings on Armslist.com between this past February and May, and found that 1,430 of the classified ads had phone numbers or emails. Then, using reverse phone number directories, they identified 607 of those people and scanned court records for files that would bar gun ownership, such as felony and drug convictions, or domestic violence convictions of protective orders. They then called these 607 people to verify identities, eliminating six people who either posted the ad for someone else or had the same name as a prohibited person.

What the mayors found debunked one of the National Rifle Association’s talking points. The NRA, which once supported FBI background checks before more recently opposing them, often states that criminals will not try to legally buy guns.

“The report demonstrates that their claim is both false and true,” the mayors countered. “Criminals undeniably do submit to background checks: in 2010 alone, federal and state checks blocked more than 150,000 gun sales to prohibited buyers. But criminals also undeniably avoid background checks—by exploiting the private sale loophole.”

The loophole in 34 states allows people buying guns from another state resident to avoid the federal background check. When comparing the percentage of gun buyers who were stopped by background checks—by gun dealers who ping a database that allows the sale to continue or stops it—the mayors’ found that 3.3 percent of the 600 gun buyers they tracked at Armslist.com would have been stopped. That “share of criminals purchasing guns” was nearly four times higher than those blocked by the FBI’s checks.