Thousands of Guns, No Background Check Required: An Analysis of The Market for Unlicensed Gun Sales in Maine

Sep 01, 2016
  • Description

The state of Maine has a strong tradition of gun ownership. And Maine's gun owners know that responsible ownership includes keeping guns out of the wrong hands. That's why 93% of Americans—and the majority of Mainers, regardless of political party—agree: all gun buyers should pass a criminal background check.

It is illegal under both federal law and Maine law for certain dangerous people—like felons, domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill, and fugitives—to buy or possess guns. The federal background check system was created to enforce the prohibition on those dangerous people and block them from buying guns. And it works: since the background check system was implemented, it has blocked nearly three million gun sales across the country to people legally prohibited from having firearms, including at least 5,501 sales in Maine alone.

But there's a problem. Background check laws were written decades ago, and they only apply if you buy from gun dealers—and not if you buy from people without dealer licenses. That makes sense when you're selling to your brother or giving a gift to your daughter. But gun sales and transfers aren't just taking place between family or at gun dealers: when an unlicensed seller posts a classified ad selling a gun, anyone can respond–and can buy that gun with no background check, no questions asked.