Investigation Uncovered One in Nine in People Seeking to Buy a Gun on Armslist Were Legally Prohibited from Buying or Owning a Firearm; New Website Lets Americans Compare Number of Gun Advertisements Where No Background Check Was Required, across States
Everytown Also Released New Hidden-Camera Footage Showing Gun Sales in Ohio Taking Place without a Background Check, After Buyer Met Unlicensed Sellers Through Ads Posted on Armslist
WASHINGTON – As the House Judiciary Committee prepares to hold its first hearing on gun safety legislation tomorrow, including the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund today released a new report, “Unchecked,” which details a yearlong investigation into gun ads posted on Armslist.com. Armslist, the self-described “largest free gun classifieds on the web,” allows prospective gun buyers to find guns being sold by unlicensed sellers who are not legally required to conduct a background check on the sale. The investigation uncovered nearly 1.2 million ads on Armslist for firearm sales that have no legal requirement for a background check. The investigation also found that, across several states, one in nine people seeking to buy a gun from an unlicensed seller were legally prohibited from buying or possessing a gun — and would have failed a background check at a licensed gun dealer.
Everytown also released hidden camera footage in which an investigator licensed in Ohio responded to firearm ads on Armlist and was able to complete multiple firearm purchases without a background check. The private investigator was able to purchase a handgun and an assault-style rifle.
“Allowing online gun buyers to skip a background check is like having two security lines at the airport: one for people who are willing to be screened, and one you can waltz right through packing whatever you want,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “This report is a galvanizing reminder of why Congress has made closing the gaping loopholes in America’s gun laws one of their top priorities.”
Everytown also unveiled a new website, everytownresearch.org/unchecked, which allows people to search and compare national, state and county numbers of ads listed on Armslist for gun sales where no background check was legally required.
Within the first week of the 116th Congress, five Democrats and five Republicans introduced H.R. 8, The Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would close the background check loophole and update the background checks law to require background checks on all gun sales. It would apply to the vast online marketplace for guns, including sites like Armslist.
“I know firsthand how breakdowns in the background check system can have deadly consequences: On the worst day of my life, my sister was shot and killed by her estranged husband. He had a history of domestic violence and would have failed a background check, but he was able to exploit a loophole in the background check system and bought a gun from an unlicensed seller he met on Armslist.com,” said Elvin Daniel, a member of the Everytown Survivor Network, gun owner and NRA member whose sister, Zina Daniel, was shot and killed at a salon and spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin by her estranged husband, who bought a gun without a background check in October 2012. “No one should have to live through this horror. I’m asking Congress to finally update the background checks law to cover all gun sales — a significant step in the right direction that will help protect Americans.”
Under federal law, certain categories of people are not allowed to buy or possess firearms, including convicted felons, domestic abusers and people who have been involuntarily committed. The national background check system was established 25 years ago to enforce this law. Since then, the internet has emerged as a massive, unregulated marketplace, where hundreds of thousands of gun sales take place with no background check and no questions asked.
In order to analyze firearm ads on Armslist, data on advertisements posted on the site were gathered using a software technique known as scraping over the period from January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2018. Everytown’s final analysis includes unique ads for handguns, rifles and shotguns, as designated by Armslist, and separates “premium vendors” — who are licensed dealers required to conduct background checks — from “private parties,” or unlicensed sellers who are not.
In order to investigate what percentage of unlicensed sellers would require a sale be completed at a licensed dealer or that a buyer have a purchase permit required by state law including a background check, Everytown investigators contacted Armslist sellers to inquire about the firearms listed for sale and assess how the sales would be completed.
In order to study the criminal histories of would-be-buyers seeking firearms in states that do not require background checks on unlicensed sales, Everytown’s investigators placed ads on Armslist and then ran public records requests on would-be buyers who responded to see if they would fail a background check.
Everytown’s report reveals the disturbing scope and danger of this online sales loophole, with key findings that include:
- In 2018 alone, there were nearly 1.2 million ads on Armslist for firearm sales that would not require a background check. Of the 1.2 million ads, nearly 50 percent — 549,684 — offered handguns for sale.
- One in nine of the would-be buyers across several states were prohibited under federal or state law — a rate over seven times higher than the number of prohibited buyers who fail background checks at licensed dealers or in other contexts where background checks are required.
- Sales initiated through Armslist advertisements were completed in as little as one day, with less than three minutes of face-to-face interaction and no background check or ID required.
An investigation of online sellers found that in states without a background check requirement for unlicensed sales, only six percent of the unlicensed sellers indicated they would require a background check on their sales. Conversely, 84 percent of sellers from states with background check laws expressly stated the sale would need to be completed at a dealer or with an appropriate permit to purchase, showing that strong laws do change the marketplace for the better.
- It is clear, based on the findings of Everytown’s yearlong investigation, that updating the background checks law to require background checks on all gun sales would help keep guns out of the wrong hands, and also change the behavior of unlicensed sellers in states that don’t currently require background checks on all gun sales.
Read more about H.R. 8, The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, at https://everytownresearch.org/h-r-8-save-lives-protect-communities/.