The Internet has changed the way everyone shops by making goods and services far more accessible to far more people. That is often an acceptable thing, except when it comes to the hotly debated area of gun control.
In its latest report, released on Wednesday, the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found that the online market in Vermont has many buyers who would be barred from purchasing weapons at licensed gun dealers.
People who would be prohibited from buying guns, such as criminals or those involved in domestic abuse, can buy weapons online without raising any red flags in background checks.
The report is pegged to a current fight in Vermont over closing loopholes such as online sales, but it is also part of the gun-control group’s efforts to fight at the state level to win battles that often are lost on the federal level, Everytown spokesman Jack Warner told the Los Angeles Times.
“We've seen some real progress on the state level,” Warner said, citing a referendum closing some loopholes that passed last year with about 60% of the vote in Washington state. Everytown had done a similar report in that state as part of the campaign. “It is a similar model that we have seen where states have been able to move on some issues.”
Warner also mentioned background-check laws passed in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and New York after the 2012 elementary school rampage in Newtown, Conn. In California, the so-called red flag law – under which potentially dangerous people can be prevented from getting weapons – was passed last year after a deadly shooting rampage in Isla Vista, he said.
In 2013, a bill was proposed to extend federal background-check rules to sales facilitated by the Internet. The measure, sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), died in the Senate.
In its latest report, titled “Hiding in Plain Sight,” Everytown monitored guns for sale on three primary websites and in a sting-like move posted 24 guns for sale on a popular arms website between July 28 and Oct. 9.
Some 169 potential buyers responded. Investigators hired by the group checked criminal backgrounds and found that seven of the 169 were prohibited by law from possessing firearms.
By extrapolating the data, “gun sales transacted on just three websites put an estimated 126 guns into the hands of felons and domestic abusers in Vermont — and likely many more — in this year alone,” the report concluded.
Online weapon sales have long been studied.
In December 2011, the city of New York investigated online sales using an undercover operation and found that 62% of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said he probably couldn't pass a background check. Michael Bloomberg, a gun-control advocate who helped fund Everytown with a $50-million donation, was mayor of New York at the time of the investigation.
A 2013 study by Third Way, a centrist Democratic group, found that more than 15,000 guns were on sale via the Internet in the 10 states it examined.
A September 2013 report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which became part of Everytown, estimated that 25,000 guns may be transferred to criminals each year through just one website. One in 30 would-be buyers have criminal records that would bar purchasing a weapon, it said.
Anyone who purchases a weapon, whether online or in person, from any licensed firearms dealer, has to go through a background check. The gun is shipped to a licensed dealer where a purchaser must appear and undergo scrutiny after filling out the proper forms.
In many cases, an online seller is simply posting the availability of a weapon and buyer is responding to what is essentially an advertisement so the transaction is the equivalent of a private sale that does not require a background check.
It is a felony for a private seller to knowingly sell a gun to someone with a criminal record or a history of mental illness, but that requirement can be difficult to enforce online.
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