Buy A Gun Online Without A Background Check
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If the seller is an FFL, or if the winner of the auction lives in a different state (this applies whether the seller is a licensed dealer or a private one), the gun must be received at an FFL, where the buyer will go through a background check before taking it home. But if a private party sells a gun on an auction site to a buyer in the same state, they can sometimes ship it directly to the purchaser without performing a background check. The United States Postal Service will mail rifles and shotguns (but not handguns) between individuals inside state lines, so long as the shipper certifies the guns are unloaded. FedEx and UPS both prohibit the shipping of guns between individuals.
Here a second caveat comes in: Such sales can only occur in one of the 32 states where gun transfers between unlicensed individuals are not subject to a background check. The remaining 18 states and the District of Columbia place restrictions on private gun sales, and must have an FFL run a background check before a transfer is completed.
Correction January 8: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of gun sales background checks have blocked since 1998. That number is more than 2.5 million, not 1.2 million.
The staggering number of ads for firearm sales that would not require a background check has remained steady over the past few years. Indeed, there have been more than one million of these ads each year in the period from 2018 through 2020. Consistent with the overall surge in gun sales across the country during 2020, ads by unlicensed sellers offering firearms for sale on Armslist surged from 2018 to 2020, with the largest increases in Arizona (120 percent), Alaska (98 percent), and Utah (60 percent).
In communications with 150 unlicensed sellers in these seven states, investigators expressed interest in purchasing the advertised firearm and asked the seller to explain the process for completing a sale, including whether the sale would have to be completed by a licensed firearms dealer or otherwise require a background check.11If asked, investigators responded truthfully that they were not prohibited from purchasing firearms and would pass a background check if it were required. In states that require background checks on all gun sales, on average, 84 percent of sellers stated that the buyer would need to pass a background check before the gun was transferred. But in states without these laws, only 6 percent of unlicensed sellers indicated a background check would be required to complete the sale. The lack of a federal law requiring unlicensed sellers to screen prospective gun purchasers to ensure that they can legally possess a firearm makes it easy for prohibited individuals to acquire firearms through the online firearm marketplace.
There is a clear and present danger in the online firearm marketplace, and the only responsible answer is to require background checks on all gun sales in order to block purchases to people with dangerous histories. Elected officials need to update federal and state laws to require background checks on all gun sales, closing the deadly online sales loophole.
Current federal law does not require background checks on sales between unlicensed parties. This means that people with dangerous histories can easily circumvent the background check system simply by purchasing their firearm online or at a gun show.
The internet has made it increasingly easy for dangerous people to take advantage of the private sale loophole by arranging gun sales with unlicensed sellers in online chatrooms, social media sites, auctions, and classified ad platforms. Predictably, the online market has become an attractive source of weapons for people who could not pass a background check at a gun store.
Federal law does provide some important, straightforward limitations on the sale or transfer of guns across state lines, making it more difficult for a prohibited person in a state with strong guns laws to buy guns online from sellers in states with weaker gun laws. Importantly, federal law generally requires people to conduct interstate gun sales or transfers through licensed gun dealers, who are required to conduct background checks and maintain a record of the sale.
As discussed below, these limitations, along with federal and state background check laws, also govern whether gun sales ordered or arranged online are subject to background checks, sale records, and other requirements.
However, federal law does not extend these requirements to unlicensed sellers. This means that a person can acquire a gun online from an unlicensed seller who resides in the same state without any background check or sale record required, unless the buyer and seller reside in a state that has closed this dangerous loophole by requiring background checks on all gun sales. In some cases, the buyer could have the gun mailed directly to his or her door. (The US Postal Service, for instance, will mail unloaded long guns between individuals who are mailing the guns within the same state).12
Twenty-one states and Washington DC have at least partially closed the background check loophole, meaning that residents of these states are required to pass a background check and/or obtain a permit in order to buy at least some types of guns from unlicensed sellers, including people arranging gun sales online. These laws are discussed more fully in our page on Universal Background Checks.
Alternatively, gun buyers should be required to physically appear in person to buy a firearm and to present a firearm purchase permit that was issued by law enforcement, pursuant to a background check.
Federal law barred Haughton from buying or possessing a firearm after his wife obtained a domestic violence restraining order against him, he was able to avoid an instant background check by purchasing a gun through a private, unlicensed seller on Armslist.com. While licensed gun dealers are required by federal law to conduct background checks, private sellers are not. For Haughton, this lethal loophole made breaking the law to buy a .40-caliber handgun as easy as searching the internet.
These classified advertisements for semi-automatic weapons were listed this week on Armslist, a website where anyone can advertise a firearm they'd like to sell, and anyone can contact a seller with an offer to buy. The site is legal. But there's no way to know whether buyers and sellers who meet through Armslist are following federal, state or local background check rules.
In October, Harvard researchers surveyed 2,000 gun owners and found that roughly 40 percent got their most recent gun without submitting to a background check. That finding lines up with an earlier survey from 1994.
In January, President Obama announced a new executive action on guns, saying he wants to close a \"loophole\" that makes it easy to buy guns online without a background check. But this plan would not affect private sellers at sites like Armslist. It calls for stronger enforcement of existing laws requiring anyone \"engaged in the business\" of selling firearms to run background checks. But for an ordinary person looking to quickly trade a gun for cash, nothing would change under this plan.
Armslist released a statement following Obama's announcement, saying, \"Many, if not most, private sellers want to do background checks. Oftentimes, the reason they do not is because under the current system, their only recourse is to physically go to a licensed dealer and pay the dealer a fee to do the check. This is costly and burdensome.\" The statement recommended making it possible for individuals to run background checks themselves, saying that \"would be a force multiplier and have a meaningful impact in reducing crime.\" (ATF spokesman Corey Ray said that proposal brings up a number of security and privacy issues.)
For unscrupulous buyers, however, the internet can provide a quick and easy way to get around the restrictions. On websites like Armslist.com, prospective buyers can browse through thousands of ads for guns and ammunition and contact the sellers directly. A New York state law passed in 2013 requires sellers to ensure that all buyers undergo a background check through a federal firearms dealer even if they arrange to purchase the gun online, but there is no oversight to make sure they do so.
NY City Lens decided to see just how easy it would be to purchase a gun online without a permit and without going through a background check. A reporter set up an e-mail account on Sunday, April 24, and posed as a prospective buyer on Armslist.com.
Within four days of setting up the e-mail account, however, NY City Lens had arranged to purchase two rifles in a way that would have violated New York law, and had been told how to get an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle without a background check. The reporter agreed on prices and meeting places with the sellers, but did not continue the conversation beyond that.
\"The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules,\" he said Jan. 5. \"A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked.\"
Federal law prohibits felons from purchasing or receiving guns unless their rights have been formally restored. However, felons can get around this obstacle by buying guns from sellers who do not require criminal background checks.
\"Violent felons aren't allowed to buy guns, period,\" said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California Los Angeles. \"But they can take advantage of the loophole in federal law that allows gun sales, including some gun sales over the Internet, to purchase from non-licensed sellers, who don't have to conduct a background check.\" 59ce067264