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Everytown, Moms Demand Action Statement on U.S. Government Accountability Office’s 2017 Internet Firearm Sales Report

December 22, 2017

The GAO’s 2017 Report on Internet Firearm Sales Reaffirms What the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Has Found in Several Previous Reports: The Internet Is an Ideal Place for Prohibited Individuals to Obtain Illegal Firearms

Not Just On the Internet: Research Has Revealed that Unlicensed Sellers at Gun Shows Will Sell Guns to People Even When They State They Could Not Pass a Background Check

NEW YORK – Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a part of Everytown, released the following statement today after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on internet firearm sales.

“Above all, this report reaffirms that the illegal sale of firearms on the internet is a growing problem that can have devastating consequences. Unfortunately, the new paper is only so helpful — GAO undercover investigators took the unusual step of asserting that they were prohibited purchasers, effectively stopping these sales before they could be completed,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “But time and again, Everytown’s research has shown overwhelming evidence that guns are readily available through unlicensed sellers, online and at gun shows, and prohibited purchasers flock disproportionately to those venues to buy guns without a background check. We applaud Senators Schatz, Warren and Representative Cummings for requesting this report and urge their colleagues to listen to the public and pass legislation to require a background check on every gun sale, including online sales between unlicensed individuals.”

Online Gun Sales: The Basics

The online market for guns is vast and growing. Nationally, dozens of websites – like, the self-described Craigslist for guns – each host tens of thousands of ads for unlicensed gun sales and provide a forum for strangers to connect and arrange offline gun transfers, just like Craigslist does for furniture sales and concert tickets. Would-be buyers and sellers can post ads to these websites offering guns “for sale” or announcing their interest in obtaining a firearm with a “want-to-buy” ad. Because federal law does not permit unlicensed sales across state lines, most websites allow users to search for ads by state. When a person seeking a gun identifies a seller – or a person selling a gun identifies a buyer – the two typically negotiate the transfer and arrange to meet offline to complete the transaction. And because federal law does not require a criminal background check for people buying from unlicensed sellers, even a convicted felon can easily get armed with no questions asked. Indeed, Everytown investigations have shown that prohibited people do rely on sites like Armslist to buy guns.

Everytown Report Findings:

  • One week after the Las Vegas mass shooting, footage recorded at a Nevada gun show shows that it remains easy to buy a gun in that state without a background check, despite the 2016 passage of Nevada’s background check initiative.
  • In Nevada, the share of prohibited online gun buyers is almost seven times higher than the share of Nevadans who try to buy guns at licensed dealers and fail background checks, which suggests that criminals are flocking to online gun sales to take advantage of this loophole.
  • In Washington, nearly 1 in 10 people seeking a firearm in an online unlicensed sale is prohibited from possessing a gun — including people charged with rape, domestic abusers, and people convicted of assaulting police officers.
  • In Oregon, unlicensed sellers post more gun ads online each week than they sell at gun shows in a full year.
  • In Vermont, the share of domestic abusers trying to illegally buy or trade for guns online is 32 times higher than the share of Vermonters who try to buy a gun at a licensed dealer and fail a background check due to a domestic violence record.

And a report from the City of New York previously showed how this phenomenon is not just limited to online sales: At gun shows, sellers are willing to sell guns to people even when they say they wouldn’t be able to pass a background check.

How the GAO Study Is Flawed:

When attempting to purchase guns on the traditional Internet (which GAO calls the “Surface Web”), GAO agents posing as unlicensed buyers overtly claimed that they were prohibited from possessing firearms. In the real world, a prohibited person trying to buy a gun online would not willfully reveal their prohibited status — the whole point is to avoid the background check that would detect the prohibiting history. Indeed, it is a federal felony for any person to sell a gun if they have reason to believe the buyer is prohibited — so the GAO investigators were actually inviting sellers to commit a crime. We already know that prohibited individuals purchase guns over the Internet, including that ATF has investigated several such cases (some of which are documented in an appendix of the GAO report).

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