Mayors Against Illegal Guns Announces "Delete Online Outlaws" Campaign to Fight Illegal Online Gun Sales
New York City Undercover Investigation Finds that 62 Percent of Unlicensed Internet Sellers Agree To Sell Firearms to Buyers Who Say They “Probably Couldn’t Pass a Background Check” – a Federal Felony
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For Immediate Release
December 15, 2011
Released By:
Mayor's Office
For More Information Contact:
Mayor's Press Office
Press.Office@cityofboston.gov

A national bi-partisan coalition of mayors is launching a campaign urging websites that host online gun advertisements to take steps to reduce illegal firearms sales. The initiative was announced after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, unveiled a New York City undercover investigation showing that many unlicensed online sellers are willing to sell firearms to people they know could not pass a background check – a felony under Federal laws.

New York City’s “Point, Click, Fire” investigation into internet guns sales found a vast and largely unregulated market for illegal guns, with 62 percent of sellers willing to commit a felony by selling firearms to people who likely could not pass a background check. The investigation probed 10 websites that had 25,000 guns available for purchase.  Investigators contacted 125 unlicensed online gun sellers located in 14 states. The investigation included sellers on Craigslist, which prohibits the sale of firearms in its site according to its posted policies.

The investigators clearly noted they likely could not pass a background check during each interaction with a seller. Videos of illegal sales, including footage of the investigator meeting sellers and exchanging cash for weapons, and a report on online gun sales are available at www.nyc.gov/pointclickfire

The coalition’s new Delete Online Outlaws campaign reiterates the coalition’s longstanding commitment to closing the private sale loophole, which enables criminals and other prohibited persons to acquire guns without having to pass a background check. More information about Delete Online Outlaws initiative and the coalition’s ongoing campaign to pass the Fix Gun Checks Act are available at http://www.fixgunchecks.org/deleteonlineoutlaws

“Today, yet another undercover investigation gives us a chilling look into America’s illegal gun market,” said coalition co-chair Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “We have been arguing for years that protecting public safety in our cities requires effective and comprehensive background checks. Now we know even more about how easily criminals and the mentally ill can buy guns from private sellers who don’t require background checks.  Make no mistake, this threatens the lives of the police officers who patrol our cities and the residents they are sworn to protect.”

“Websites are becoming the new gun shows,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Most gun sales are perfectly legal, including sales on the internet. But until the background check law covers all gun sales, these websites will continue to be used by criminals to slip through the gaps. Essentially, if you’re a felon looking for a gun, our investigation shows that ‘there’s an app for that.’ That’s why it’s so important for our grassroots members to speak up in support of law and order.”

The Delete Online Outlaws campaign asks members of the public to urge websites to adopt four simple policies that will help prevent illegal online gun sales:

  1. Require sellers to register with the site before listing guns for sale online.
  2. Require buyers to register with the site before contacting gun sellers.
  3. Provide a simple mechanism to flag suspicious behavior in gun sales - and remove suspicious ads.
  4. Develop rigorous self-policing measures, including internal auditing procedures like "secret shopping," to detect and deter suspicious activity.

There are more than 4,000 websites that offer guns for sale, according to the Department of Justice. As at gun shows, many websites offer forums for both federally licensed dealers and unlicensed “private sellers” to advertise side by side, creating a lucrative new market for firearms. Licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks on prospective buyers, but private sellers are not – a gap in federal law often called the “private sale loophole.”  Private sellers may not, however, sell guns to people they believe could not pass a background check – a law many of the City’s investigative targets intended to violate.

An estimated 40 percent of gun sales in the United States are conducted privately, according to the Department of Justice, and the internet exponentially increases the size of this secondary market. As part of the coalition’s ongoing Fix Gun Checks campaign, Delete Online Outlaws continues the coalition’s call for Congress to pass pending legislation requiring a background check for every gun sale.  The Fix Gun Checks Act, developed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and introduced by Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Carolyn McCarthy (S.436/H.R.1781 (112th Congress)), would accomplish this.

“This investigation shines a spotlight on how criminals right here in Columbus can buy guns through online sellers,” said Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, a member of the coalition.  “To stop these anonymous sales that put guns in the hands of killers, websites should require gun sellers to identify themselves, and Congress should pass the Fix Gun Checks Act to close this loophole.”

The New York City “Point, Click, Fire” Investigation

The City hired licensed private investigators who captured audio of telephone calls with private sellers who advertise on websites, and used concealed cameras during in-person interactions. The investigative team placed telephone calls to 125 private sellers from 14 states who posted online gun advertisements on 10 websites.  The states in which sellers agreed to sell illegally included Louisiana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Virginia, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio and Colorado. 

A clear majority of the sellers – 77 of 125 the City examined – failed the integrity test by agreeing to sell to a purchaser who said he couldn’t pass a background check.  

Unlicensed sellers on Craigslist failed the integrity test at the highest rate, despite the fact that the site claims to prohibit the listing of weapons on its server. The failure rates for sellers on the five websites where investigators conducted more than 8 integrity tests were:

  • Craigslist.com: 82 percent of the time, the seller who listed on the site agreed to an illegal sale
  • Glocktalk.com: 78 percent
  • Gunlistings.org: 77 percent
  • KSL.com: 67 percent 
  • Armslist.com: 54 percent

Full details of the investigation are available at www.nyc.gov/pointclickfire.

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