An employee reviews a customer's application as part of a background check for a handgun sale, in Houston, Texas.
Photo by Michael Stravato/New York Times/Redux

New gun report: Criminals are bypassing background checks


As legislators and grassroots organizations demand that the federal government tighten gun laws to close existing loopholes, new findings have revealed the number of criminals who continue to evade the background checks system.

Everytown for Gun Safety on Wednesday published the results of an investigation in Washington that show most of the criminals in the state purchase firearms from the online marketplace to avoid background checks. Of the identified people seeking guns in unlicensed sales over the Internet, nearly one in 10 had been convicted of crimes that prevented them from legally possessing firearms, including rape domestic abuse, and assaulting police officers. The investigation also found that 44,000 guns are posted for sale annually on the Internet.

“Of the identified people seeking guns in unlicensed sales over the Internet, nearly one in 10 had been convicted of crimes.”
Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. But unlicensed private sellers — online and at gun shows, for example — are not required to observe the same policies. About 40% of firearms sold in the country are transferred by such private sellers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice

The pro-reform gun group, backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, examined five major Washington classified websites, including, the self-described Craigslist for guns. Those platforms illegally transfer about 4,000 firearms each year. The websites range in size, with hundreds to tens of thousands of firearms listed at any given time. Once each day from Feb. 25 until July 12, 2014, investigators extracted online data from all gun-related ads posted by the self-described “private sellers.”

The findings of the report, “Online and Off the Record,” came on the heels of a ballot initiative in Washington that would require criminal background checks on all firearms sales and transfers in the state — including at gun shows and on the Internet. In an unusual move, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates last month donated $1 million to the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a reform group attempting to reduce violence in the Evergreen State. 

Early last year, 345,000 Washington residents began pushing for the initiative, known as “I-594,” to appear on a ballot. They will have a chance to vote on the measure, the country’s only statewide background checks initiative, during the midterm elections in November.

Recent polling reveals that 72% of Washington residents support I-594.

The same day as the organization disclosed the results, Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS) began airing two new television commercials in New Hampshire that highlight two Republican congressional candidates’ opposition to sealing the loophole that allows domestic abusers, stalkers, and other individuals who pose a threat to society to buy guns. Members target Congressman Frank Guinta and state Rep. Marilinda Garcia for holding beliefs contrary to those of most residents in the Granite State.

Many of the pro-reform campaigns, such as the national petitions initiated by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, are focused on addressing the loophole in the federal background checks system. Earlier this year, members of the group successfully convinced Facebook and Instagram to regulate all sales and trades on those sites of firearms that are not subject to background checks.