How Websites Serve as “Unregulated Bazaars” For Gun Sales Without Checks


With no requirements for background checks on most private gun transactions, a New York Times examination found that and similar sites function as unregulated bazaars, where the anonymity of the Internet allows unlicensed sellers to advertise scores of weapons and people legally barred from gun ownership to buy them. Seeking a glimpse into the largely hidden online gun market, the Times assembled a database and analyzed several months of ads from Armslist, which has become the dominant player in the arena, and examined numerous smaller sites.

Over the past three months, the Times identified more than 170,000 gun ads on Armslist. Some were for the same guns, making it difficult to calculate just how many guns were actually for sale. Even so, with more than 20,000 ads posted every week, the number is probably in the tens of thousands. Notably, 94 percent of the ads were posted by “private parties,” who, unlike licensed dealers, are not required to conduct background checks. The examination of Armslist raised questions about whether many sellers are essentially functioning as unlicensed firearms dealers, not in compliance with federal law. The law says that people who “engage in the business” of selling firearms need to obtain a license and conduct background checks on customers. While the definition of engaging in business is vague, the Times found that more than two dozen people had posted more than 20 different guns for sale in a several-month span.

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