Bloomberg News

Gun Pandemonium as No Background Needed for Web Sales

December 22, 2012

Armslist Site Offers Newtown-Style Guns Without Background Check

A screen grab of a classified ad posted yesterday on Armslist.com. Source: Armslist.com via Bloomberg

The ad features an AR-15 semi- automatic rifle, similar to a gun used in the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings for $2,000. “No background check required. Just cash face to face with valid PA Drivers License. It’s Pandemonium!”

The classified ad was posted Dec. 20 on Armslist.com, a website for gun enthusiasts. Closely held Armslist LLC’s site and others like it offer an easy way for gun buyers to avoid background checks, gun-control advocates say. While some sellers on the site require one, most don’t because federal law doesn’t require background checks for guns sold privately. In a disclaimer, the site places the responsibility on users to comply with laws and doesn’t certify or investigate any person or transaction.

“People need to realize there is a permanent gun show every day online that is accessible to anyone with a computer,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an interview.

Armslist, which matches buyers and sellers and doesn’t sell guns itself, didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.

In the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre that took the lives of 26 people, including 20 children, President Barack Obama has made curbing gun violence a priority in his second term.

For new restrictions to be effective, Armslist and gun shows where private sellers congregate would have to require background checks, said Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Los Angeles who studies criminology. Currently only guns sold by an entity with a federal firearm license must conduct a background check.

“Someone once said the scandal is not what’s illegal, it’s what’s legal,” Kleiman said.

New Restrictions

Among the new restrictions Obama would support is making private buyers pass background checks. He is also pushing for a ban on military-style guns and high-capacity ammunition clips.

Dependable figures on gun sales are difficult to find because purchases aren’t collected into a central database. While the Federal Bureau of Investigation knows how many background checks are requested per year, it doesn’t record how many sales are then made.

Armslist, based in Noble, Oklahoma, is attracting increasing criticism. Representative Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, sent a letter to the company on Oct. 26 to crack down on dubious gun sales. The letter claimed a man, who wouldn’t have passed a background check, killed three people with a gun purchased on the website.

Surging Sales

In the wake of the Newtown shootings and subsequent talk about tightening gun restrictions, gun sales have surged across the country. Armslist had more than 5,000 ads seeking to buy, trade or sell a semi-automatic rifle yesterday. About 96 percent of those were classified as private sales. There were more than 400 new listings posted on Dec. 19, compared to about 100 on Dec. 13, the day before the shootings.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT:US), the largest seller of guns in the country, is sold out of many semi-automatic rifles and it has one of the more scrutinized gun-buying processes in the country. Employees use a kiosk in the 1,800 stores that sell guns to complete federal and state forms and request a background check through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The retailer doesn’t sell guns online, and handguns can be purchased only in Alaska. In 2008, Wal-Mart entered an agreement with the Mayors Against Illegal Guns to increase scrutiny of gun sales that includes video recording of firearm purchases. Under the accord, Wal-Mart agreed not to sell a gun until a background check has been finished. Under current law, a licensed gun dealer can sell a gun if the FBI doesn’t complete the check within three days.

NRA Proposal

Amid rising pressure for tighter gun restrictions, the National Rifle Association, which has opposed legislation limiting gun ownership, yesterday said stationing police officers in schools was the proper response to the shootings, and blamed films and video games for the violence.

A bill that would have required background checks for all gun sales passed the Senate in 1999 with Vice President Al Gore casting the deciding vote. The measure never became law. There are current bills in the Senate and House that address private gun sales.

Kleiman said there’s a good chance the loophole is removed after Newtown.

“The NRA is in retreat, and Congress has to do something,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matt Townsend in New York at mtownsend9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at rajello@bloomberg.net


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