What a Difference a Law Makes: Online Gun Sales in States With and Without Background Checks

Sep 16, 2013
  • Description

It is estimated that today there are about 4,000 websites dedicated to facilitating gun sales between private individuals. One of the largest of these sites -- Armslist.com -- essentially serves as an eHarmony or Craigslist for gun sales, connecting gun buyers and sellers in each of the 50 states. Buyers can search for-sale listings or want ads within their state or city, locate unlicensed sellers or buyers, and arrange to meet up in person to purchase guns. As long as the gun doesn't cross state lines or travel through the U.S. Postal System, 34 states allow these sales between strangers to take place unregulated and without criminal background checks. By contrast, 16 states require background checks for gun sales between private, unlicensed individuals like the stranger-to-stranger sales promoted on Armslist.com. In this study, we sought to determine if these laws make a difference. In particular, are there fewer online sales in states that require background checks compared to states that don't? Based on our survey of more than 90,000 online firearm listings, we conclude that online private sales are far more prevalent in states that do not require criminal background checks than among states that do. We recommend that states and Congress enact laws to require checks for these private sales and that gun safety organizations encourage private sellers to always use background checks when selling their firearms.