There Is No Loophole for Guns Advertised Online



Today the Senate is scheduled to vote on several amendments to the Democrats' main gun control bill, including legislation backed by Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would require background checks for all sales at gun shows and for all sales initiated through online or print ads. To help push Manchin and Toomey's measure along, today's New York Times has a front-page story headlined "Seeking Gun or Selling One, Web Is a Land of Few Rules: Even Criminals Are Free From Background Checks." I will force myself to ignore the dangling modifier and proceed to an explanation of why that headline is grossly misleading. As a careful reading of the story itself makes clear, there are no special rules (yet!) for guns advertised online. As in every other context, federally licensed gun dealers are legally required to run background checks on buyers, but private sellers—people who do not "engage in the business" of selling firearms—are not, although they are committing a felony if they knowingly sell a gun to a person who is legally disqualified from owning one. As the Times points out, the distinction between a private seller and a dealer can get blurry, but the general idea is that your average gun collector who makes "occasional sales" should not be burdened by the same requirements as someone whose occupation is selling guns. In any case, contrary to what the headline implies, the rules for gun sales are no looser in the "land" of the Web than anywhere else. Interstate sales between private parties are illegal, so buyer and seller have to be from the same state, and they generally arrange a meeting to complete the transaction, just as they would for sales initiated through print ads or word of mouth.

What the Internet does, as in most areas, is make something that was already happening easier to do. Buyers and sellers can connect more readily through sites devoted to gun listings than they can through periodic gun shows or classified ads on paper. Whether you think that's a good or bad thing depends on your perspective. Recycling material that was included in a February 1 Mother Jones story by Stephanie Mencimer, the Times focuses on the classified-ad site Armslist, warning that prohibited buyers can use such forums to connect with private sellers who don't ask questions. How often does this happen? The Times cites two murderers (also mentioned in the Mother Jones story) who bought guns from private sellers with whom they connected online. Both were legally disqualified, one because of a restraining order, the other because he is Canadian. The Times also conducted its own investigation, reviewing "more than 170,000 gun ads on Armslist." It identified two buyers who are legally barred from owning guns: a man in Colorado Springs with burglary, car theft, and misdemeanor assault convictions and a man in South Carolina who is "a fugitive from the Rhode Island police," with "two outstanding felony warrants as well as a misdemeanor warrant." Among the buyers the Times was able to identify through the phone numbers they listed, "most people examined had clean records, or had only misdemeanor convictions that did not disqualify them from having weapons."

Has the Times made a persuasive case for requiring the involvement of a federally licensed dealer in every sale by a gun owner who uses the Internet to find a buyer? That depends on the weight you assign to the burden such a requirement imposes on law-abiding gun owners, who in effect would face criminal penalties for talking online about weapons they'd like to sell. (Talking offline would still be legal, as long as you don't do it in a magazine or newspaper.) Your view of whether such a policy is reasonable will also depend on how likely you think it is that criminals determined to obtain a gun will find other ways to do so.

In the 2004 survey that I mention in today's column, state prison inmates who had used guns to commit crimes said they got them from the following sources:

Friends or family members: 39.5%

Street or black market suppliers: 37.5%

Licensed gun dealers: 11.4%

Theft: 9.9%

Gun shows or flea markets: 1.7%

There was no mention of the Internet, and the private sellers who worry the Times do not exactly qualify as "street or black market suppliers," since they are breaking the law only if they know the buyer has a disqualifying record. Also note that criminals rarely buy firearms at gun shows, which is not the impression you'd get from activists and politicians who bemoan the "gun show loophole." It seems that the "Internet loophole" likewise has been blown way out of proportion, probably because online gun ads, like gun shows, are conspicuous. The data suggest that, as you might expect, criminals prefer to obtain their weapons from sources that are less visible.

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  1. I’m more concerned about the fact that pressure cookers are completley unregulated! Felons, the mentally ill, emacs users all can plunk down money in a cooking store and walk out with an oversized pressure cooker, capable of maiming 500 children without showing ID, a background check or having to wait for a cooling off period.

    Why won’t congress enact common sense restrictions on pressure cooker purchases?!?

    1. emacs users

      vi users are ok though?
      you monster

    2. Nobody actually wants to BAN pressure cookers. We just want to limit the PSI they are capable of producing. Any reasonable individual not brainwashed by Big Culinary would be in favor of this.

    3. my neighbor’s mom makes $66 an hour on the internet. She has been without work for 5 months but last month her income was $16989 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site
      (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

  2. Jennifer Rubin writes a fairly forgettable column about why Obama is losing on the gun issue. But the comments are an unforgettable sea of insanity and stupidity.…..ite-house/

    1. How about this one: “I’m just wondering – why in a gun massacre do we blame the gun, and in a terrorist bombing we blame the terrorist, not the bomb? The difference is? Thank you.”

      1. There are a few intelligent ones. But most of them are just amazingly stupid.

      2. Duh,
        Because guns are inherently evil and bombs are not, as Obama demonstrates daily with his drone bombings.

      3. “I’m just wondering – why in a gun massacre do we blame the gun, and in a terrorist bombing we blame the terrorist, not the bomb? The difference is? Thank you.”


        That is as great an example of the lefty bubble I’ve ever seen in my life.

        1. I read it as pointing out the stupid cognitive dissonance of the lefty bubble.

    2. How about this:

      “Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is a PERFECT face for the gee oh pee.
      A Confederate reactionary fool. Man, I sure hope he stays in play!
      They are going down, they are going down down.

      The Whigs look good compared to these idiots.”

      That’s Tony/ Shriek level stupidity.

      1. Five bucks says that guy could not name three planks in the Whig platform.

  3. Speaking as someone who has actually bought a handgun “over the internet” it drives me bananas to see that noxious lie perpetuated.

    1. People are not going to stop buying guns online anymore than they are going to stop looking for hookers online. The whole point of this is to make a few more currently law abiding gun owners into criminal. Everything they propose and do has that purpose. If you can’t outlaw gun ownership in so many words, you just make the actions associated with owning a gun, like buying a gun, selling a gun, buying ammunition, storing the gun, illegal and you have done the same thing. That is what they are doing.

    2. As long as Missoula County is able to come up with an extra 10,000 absentee Democratic voters, Second Amendment accountability in Montana is going to to be greatly diminished. Watch Baucus – he will vote for whatever pointless gun control legislation the Democrat’s come up with in the Senate, and he will not suffer for it in 2014.

      1. Dammit, that was supposed to be in reply to your Bullock comment below.

      2. Is MT the next CO?

      3. Isn’t Bacchus retiring?

  4. There Is No Loophole for Guns Advertised Online

    But there sure is a Loophole for Lying About This in the Mainstream Media.

    1. Does the Mainstream Media every tell the truth, the whole truth and only the truth about anything?

      Maybe sports scores, but that’s about it.

      1. I don’t think anyone tells the whole truth about anything.

  5. Also, scumbag left wing authoritarian pawn of police organizations, Democrat governor of Montana Steve Bullock vetoed a bill to expand/relax concealed carry laws, because he believes in the Second Amendment, but only if your local sheriff can have a shot at controlling who gets to exercise it. And, also, you never know when you might get to completely ruin the life of somebody when you catch him in a technical violation of the law, even if he is in no way a threat to anybody.

    Fuck you, Steve.

    1. Guns for cronies Brooks. Why do you hate cronies? You know the sheriffs will make sure that only the right people have CCW permits.

    2. The only path to government following the 2nd Amendment is the repeal of all laws mention guns since 1787.

  6. If it were not for that damn internet, Jonathan Jackson could not have gotten guns from Angela Davis and those Weather Underground bombers could never have terrorized America. Wait, you said internet?

  7. The problem is that most gun-averse people don’t care to learn the facts.

    For decades, they have watched movies and TV shows in which all the bad guys have easy access to fully automatic firearms. In other media they have heard the oft-recited mantras of “assault rifle” and “gun show loophole”. Introduce the intrigue of the Internet, and it’s no wonder that they think it’s easy to buy firearms, including fully automatic weapons, over the Internet.

    Uninformed impressions shaped by decades of media trump facts.

    Two recent incidents that demonstrate the irrelevance of facts. First, the President posed with a shotgun and the AP captioned the photograph by saying that he was shooting a rifle. Second, the President said that a particular murderer of children used a fully automatic rifle. If neither the media class nor the political class cares to get the facts right, how can the gun-averse public be expected to do any better.

    1. They also have no idea how people actually acquire guns in this country. Most guns are not shot very often and last for decades. Therefore, most people who own a gun didn’t buy it at the store. They usually buy it from a friend or a relative. Hell, I currently own seven different weapons and have actually purchased one of them. The rest were gifts from members of my family, heirlooms and such. I am pretty typical. But the dip shit gun banners don’t know this. They really think you will shut down access to guns in this country by regulating Wall Mart.

      1. So shutting down gun sales wouldn’t violate the Second Amendment? I’m sure the grabbers would be cool with that argument.

        I mean, with record gun sales for the past 5+ years, I seriously doubt most gun owners now never bought a gun.

    2. Ironically, I believe that Hollywood has actually done more to promote a culture of gun ownership in this country than anyone else, aside from family members.

      I grew up in a household where my parents weren’t gun people. They owned a revolver for self-defense, but it just sat in the closet and collected dust. I never fired a gun until I was old enough to buy one. But movies and video games turned me into a gun nut from an early age. The irony is delicious.

      1. That is great Jordan. It is funny how Hollywood as been willing to give up so much in the name of PC. They refuse to make biblical epics anymore even though they always have and always will make money. They avoid making movies where Muslims are terrorists or members of a minority group are the bad guy. But they cannot for some reason give up on making violent gun oriented movies.

        1. There’s a difference between cutting off your nose to spite your face, and taking a chainsaw to your limbs.

      2. So you admit that videogames made you a murderer? Check and mate.

  8. I go to Gunbroker to get a feel for prices, but I probably wouldn’t buy anything there.


  10. For decades, they have watched movies and TV shows in which all the bad guys have easy access to fully automatic firearms.

    Ooh, that give me a terrific script idea. The bad guys roam the countryside, killing cops and taking all their guns. The only sensible solution? Disarm all the cops, to shut down that deadly flow of gunz to the black market.

    I had better oughta get to work on that.

  11. Direct shipment of guns and interstate sales between private parties are illegal.

    Unless the private parties hold C&R licenses. In that case it is legal and neither are dealers.

    1. Of course the weapons must be in the broad category of curios and relics.

  12. For the umpteenth time, facts don’t matter. It’s legislation by waving tiny bloody shirts, 24/7.

  13. If I am a criminal with mal intent anyhow. Why the hell am I going to pay top dollar on armslist when I can get a stolen gun for dirt cheap from any number of associates? The level of stupid on display here is getting really old.

    1. Maybe we should come up with a way to cut down on firearm thefts?

      Oh, I forgot, H+R isn’t interested in solutions. We just shout NO NO NO NO NO NO NO to everything.

      1. You know it really blows me away that there isn’t an official citizen searchable database for stolen serial numbers. Not just for guns but for whatever… I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me as it provides more opportunity to rope innocent people into becoming criminals…

  14. I wonder how long it will be before these idiots realize you don’t need a FFL to buy and sell antique firearms, many of whom are just as deadly as the dreaded assault gunz!!?

    1. If they’re just as deadly as “assault weapons” why does no modern army use antique weapons (hence the term antique).

      1. Because deadly doesn’t mean reliable or cheap. That is why. Do yourself and everyone on this board a favor and go buy an old Winchester 75 lever action and shoot yourself with it. You can report back on its relative deadliness.

        1. The ability of a weapon to be used in a killing is not what I’m talking about. You can use a bottle of Drano to kill.

          I’m talking about mass murder, which would be difficult with an antique firearm.

          1. The three worst mass murders since 1990, Happy Land Night Club in NYC, Muraah Building in OKC, and 9/11, involved no firearms. They each had a body count multiple times that of VA Tech, the worst shooting.

            And VA TEch wasn’t the worst school mass murder. That would be the Bath School, back in 1927, even before “assault weapons” were invented in 1944.

      2. You realize that the alleged “assault weapons” that are currently being discussed in legislation aren’t generally the same ones used by modern armies either. Right?

  15. Is this like the time that bank gave Michael Moore that gun for opening an account, no questions asked, and he just walked out with it after signing for the account?

    1. I think he had to do the instant background check before he could walk out with it, if I recall correctly.

  16. If I am a criminal with mal intent anyhow. Why the hell am I going to pay top dollar on armslist when I can get a stolen gun for dirt cheap from any number of associates?

    Haven’t you hard? Laws are like magic spells. If we just get the right words on paper, all our prayers will be answered.

  17. Heard

  18. Is MT the next CO?

    Quite possibly. Anti-business, anti-private-property, anti-freedom collectivist busybodyism (largely home grown) is rampant.

    1. Honestly this surprises me. While very beautiful, I assumed Montana lacked the touch of cosmopolitan appeal that is bringing the California hoard to Colorado. You really think it is coming from within? Im not real up on MT local politics I guess.

  19. Both were legally disqualified, one because of a restraining order, the other because he is Canadian.

    Good to know that background checks will keep guns out of the hands of the three most dangerous categories of people: violent felons, mentally ill people, and Canadians.

    1. Most of the people subject to restraining orders have never committed any crime, or harmed anyone. Such orders are boilerplate-routine in divorces.

  20. That depends on the weight you assign to the burden such a requirement imposes on law-abiding gun owners, who in effect would face criminal penalties for talking online about weapons they’d like to sell.

    Mr Sullum, misrepresentation in the supposed service of gun rights is just as bad as misrepresentation on the other side of the issue. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    The Toomey-Manchin bill has absolutely no effect on “talking online about weapons you’d like to sell” unless you sell it to a person who found out about the firearm directly from such talk. Maybe you can start complaining about the NYT’s dangling modifiers after you learn what the phrase “pursuant to” means.

    Furthermore, even if the buyer finds out about the firearm via an Internet posting/discussion, you still don’t face criminal penalties unless you refuse to ask for a CCW permit or complete the transfer through an FFL.

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