62 Percent of Private Sellers Agree to Sell Illegally – a Felony under Federal Law. Undercover Videos of Illegal Gun Sales and Full Report Available at www.nyc.gov
NEW YORK — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt today announced the results of an investigation into internet gun sales, which found a vast and largely unregulated market for illegal guns, with 62 percent of private 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 and investigators contacted 125 private 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 probably could not pass a background check during each interaction with a seller. Videos of the illegal sales, including where the investigator meets the seller and the weapon and cash is exchanged, and a report on online gun sales – “Point, Click, Fire” – are available at www.nyc.gov. The Mayor unveiled the videos and the results of the investigation at City Hall, where some of the illegally purchased guns were displayed, including an illegally sold Ruger P95 9mm handgun – the exact make and model of the weapon a career criminal used to murder New York City Police Officer Peter Figoski earlier this week.
“Over the past decade, we’ve launched a wide-ranging attack on illegal guns – and today, we’re opening a new front in that battle by targeting what has become an increasingly prevalent and dangerous problem: illegal gun sales on the internet,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Our investigators found that online gun sellers were all too willing to make illegal sales – and one of the guns we bought was the same make and model as the one that took the life of Police Officer Figoski this week. When illegal guns can be bought and sold without background checks, tragic and deadly consequences result.”
“We’ve been contending with the Iron Pipeline bringing guns into New York City, the last thing that we need is an electronic pipeline,” said Police Commissioner Kelly. “When the world learned that Lee Harvey Oswald purchased his weapon through the mail, there was a huge outcry and the Gun Control Act of 1968 regulated the sale of guns through the mail. We shouldn’t have to wait for the assassination of a president or the killing of a police officer to dismantle a conduit bringing illicit guns into the city.”
“This investigation – for the first time – takes a snapshot of this new online gun market, and unfortunately it’s not a pretty picture,” said the Mayor’s Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt. “Congress has to take action to require background checks of all sales, but the websites who profit off of this dangerous unregulated online market can clean up their acts right now. They can take simple steps to lift the veil of secrecy and reduce illegal gun sales by requiring sellers and buyers to provide identification, training users to follow the law, creating an effective way to flag violations and searching their sites for illegal activity. There’s nothing extraordinary about those recommendations and in fact, many responsible websites already have them in place.”
There are more than 4,000 websites that offer guns for sale, according to the Department of Justice. Similar to 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 have reason to believe could not pass a background check – a law most those contacted in the investigation would have violated. An estimated 40 percent of gun sales in the United States are conducted privately, according to the Department of Justice.
The City hired licensed private investigators supervised by the global investigative firm Kroll to conduct a series of online purchases. Investigators 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 who posted online gun advertisements on 10 websites in 14 states, including Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
A clear majority of the sellers – 77 of 125 private sellers – failed the integrity test by agreeing to sell to a purchaser who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check.
Private sellers on Craigslist failed the integrity test at the highest rate, despite the fact that the site says that it prohibits the listing of weapons on its server. On the five websites where investigators contacted the most sellers, an illegal sale was agreed to:
- Craigslist.com: 82 percent of the time
- Glocktalk.com: 78 percent
- Gunlistings.org: 77 percent
- KSL.com: 67 percent
- Armslist.com: 54 percent
eBay, which reportedly owns a substantial share of Craigslist, also has a policy prohibiting its users from selling guns, but unlike Craigslist, eBay.com appears to be enforcing its policy. Several reviews of the site by investigators did not identify a single firearm for sale on the site.
Investigators arranged to meet five of the sellers who failed the integrity test in person and exchange the guns for cash. As a result, investigators purchased four handguns, including one assault-style pistol, and an assault rifle, which ranged in price from $300 – $650.
The 48 private sellers who refused to make illegal sales confirms that some sellers know and obey Federal law governing gun sales to prohibited purchasers. As one seller explained, “because you just told me that, though, I can’t sell it to you…because if you just told me that you can’t pass, it would be a felony for me to sell it to you, so thanks, have a good day.”
Recommendations for Reducing Illegal Online Gun Sales
To ensure the legality of online gun sales, the report says, Congress, Federal law enforcement and websites hosting gun sales should take steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Among the recommendations in Point, Click, Fire:
- Federal law should require a background check for every gun sale. Legislation now pending in both chambers of Congress – The Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 (S.436/H.R.1781 (112th Congress)) – would enact this reform.
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) should improve enforcement of existing laws. ATF should conduct undercover investigations on a variety of websites, track whether guns recovered in crimes were originally sold online and offer online tutorials to train sellers and buyers on federal gun laws governing online sales.
- Websites should adopt tougher protocols for self-policing. Websites that permit gun sales demand transparency from sellers and buyers and facilitate reporting of suspicious behavior by site users.
The Mayor’s Chief Policy Advisory John Feinblatt wrote to websites reviewed in the investigation to request meetings to review the evidence and discuss measures the sites can take to deter criminal sales.
The City has submitted evidence from the investigation, including audio and video, to ATF Director B. Todd Jones and to the ATF field offices in the locations where purchases were made.
2009 and 2011 Undercover Gun Show Investigations
In 2009, the City of New York conducted a similar investigation and documented problems at seven gun shows in three states. Nineteen of 30 private sellers at these gun shows – 63 percent – sold guns to investigators who said they could not pass a background check. Since the 2009 investigation, four of those seven gun shows have improved their safety practices.
The City conducted new undercover investigations at Arizona gun shows shortly after the January 8, 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Investigators purchased a Glock pistol with a 33-round extended magazine, like the weapon Jared Loughner used to kill six people and would 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, with no background check. City investigators bought two other semi-automatic pistols with no background checks even after the sellers were told that the buyers probably could not pass a background check
About the Investigation
A team of investigators supervised by Kroll, a leader in business intelligence and investigations, conducted undercover investigations to capture audio and video recordings of online gun sellers. The investigators were licensed as private investigators in more than 21 states, with more than 80 years in combined law enforcement experience, including retired prosecutors and police officers. Every investigator who participated in the integrity tests was required to complete an intensive training program designed and administered by Kroll.
First Videotape, Legal Activity:
Investigator: Hi, I’m calling about that El Paso Gun Trader ad– for the Kimber Target SS?
Seller: Yes– Yes sir….
Investigator: I know it says here 700 firm, so I mean, I ain’t gonna try to lowball you, but, you’re not a licensed guy, right?
Seller: No, I’m not a licensed dealer. So…
Investigator: Okay, so no background checks?
Seller: No background checks, sir.
Investigator: That’s good, ‘cause I probably couldn’t pass one. Anyway-
Seller: Oh, yeah, I– Because you just told me that, though, I can’t sell it to you.
Investigator: Why’s that?
Seller: ‘Cause if you just told me that you can’t pass, it’s be a felony for me to sell it to you. So, thanks. Have a good day!
Investigator: Hung up on me.
Illegal Ohio Online Sale 1:
Seller: Hey, this is Eric. I just missed your call about the gun on ArmsList.
Investigator: Oh yeah, yeah. Hey Eric.
Seller: I got like three. I was wondering which one were you interested in?
Investigator: How about the Smith 9 millimeter there… You take $425 for it?
Seller: Yeah, I’ve got a couple other guys that want to trade me, but if you’re talking cash I’d much rather have cash.
Investigator: Oh I got cash.
Seller: Just bring ID with you, I’ll bring my ID so everything will be cool like that, you know? I’ll show you that I’m over 18 years old. [Laughs]
Investigator: You’re not one of those licensed guys though, are you Eric?
Seller: No, this is private party, so it’ll be just between you and me.
Investigator: Okay, but there’s no background check, right?
Seller: No background check, no nothing. No.
Investigator: Good, ‘cause I probably couldn’t pass one.
Seller: Really? Don’t say that, man. [Laughs] I don’t want to hear that.
Investigator: All right, so $425?
Seller: Yeah, $425’s what I’m asking for it, yup.
Investigator: So, you got the Smith and Wesson right, 469?
Seller: Yup, that’s the 469.
Seller: Or you could put this in your pocket and have 15 rounds extra. You know what I’m saying?
Seller: If you run out of rounds with that – God forbid – you have your f***ing reload. You know what I’m saying?
Investigator: Oh yeah, okay. You count it there and make sure everything’s okay.
Seller: All right, sir. One, two, three, four, fifty.
Investigator: Well listen, I appreciate it.
Investigator: All right.
Seller: You enjoy.
Illegal Ohio Online Sale 2:
Investigator: I was calling about that Ruger Mini-14 you got there. Still got it?
Seller: Yeah, yes I do.
Investigator: You’re not one of those licensed guys or anything, right?
Seller: No, no, nope. [Laughs]
Investigator: Okay good, so no paperwork, no taxes, and-
Seller: No, nope, none of that, nope. Just, you know-
Investigator: No background checks.
Seller: No, I just take cash and there you go. [Laughs]
Investigator: All right, no background checks. That’s good, because I probably couldn’t pass one of those things.
Investigator: But yeah, $650, man, I’d love to have it.
Seller: Okay, yeah that’s fine. Well if you want-
Investigator: Just give me a call at this number and we’ll just hook up there.
Seller: Nice to meet you.
Investigator: Nice to meet you. So that’s it, huh?
Seller: That’s it. Investigator: Can I take a look?
Seller: Go right ahead, feel free.
Investigator: Count it for me, make sure it’s there.
Seller: I’m glad it all works out in the end. You got what you want…
Investigator: Yeah, sure did.
Seller: …and I got what I wanted.
Investigator: All right, thanks a lot.
Video of Additional Illegal Online Sales:
Investigator: So, no- no paperwork or anything?
Seller: No, no, no, no, no… Just as long as you’re, like, a Kentucky resident – I don’t care.
Investigator: Okay, Yeah, so no- no background checks. Right?
Seller: Right. Right.
Investigator: That’s good, ‘cuz I probably couldn’t pass one.
Investigator: yeah. Four- 400 cash? Yeah-
Seller: Yeah, I’ll take 400 cash.
Investigator: You’re not like a licensed guy, are you?
Investigator: Okay. So, no background checks or anything like that?
Seller: No, I’m just a private person.
Investigator: Oh, that’s good because I probably couldn’t pass one, so-
Seller: I probably couldn’t either.
Investigator: You know- you’re talking my language there, Fred. I like that.
Investigator: So, there ain’t going to be no background checks or nothin’ like that, then?
Seller: It’s- It’s your problem if it’s not legal for you to buy it – that’s how that works here, in Tennessee.
Investigator: Okay, ‘cuz I probably couldn’t pass one – a background.
Seller: (?) Well, you shouldn’t tell me that, though.
Investigator: Oh, yeah.
Seller: That’s okay, I don’t know all the letters of the law, but I’m pretty sure, if somebody said, ‘I can’t pass a background check,’ you’re not supposed to give it to them. But, it’s okay, I would.
Investigator: You don’t need no background check or anything like that, right?
Seller: No. In Ohio, all- all I need to see is your license to make sure you’re over 21.
Investigator: That’s good, ‘cause I probably couldn’t pass one.
Seller: I- I don’t need to know it.
Investigator: No background checks?
Seller: No background checks.
Investigator: That’s good, ‘cause I probably couldn’t pass one.
Seller: So that’s serious. If You- If you’re gonna use it on somebody afterwards, I might have to use my other gun on your ass.
Unknown: Yeah, call me back around 6 and then I’ll just write up the bill of sale to you, or whatever, I don’t know how that works.
Investigator: Like I said, I don’t want no- couldn’t pass a background check anyway, so.
Seller: That right there – a lot of people do have that problem and- I mean, just between you and me, there’s a lot of people who buy guns that way that probably can’t walk into a gun store and do it, but, person-to-person private sales – you just sell the gun.
Illegal Sale to a Minor:
Investigator: Hi I saw your ad on Gunlistings, uh, for the Glock 27. Is that still available?
Seller: Oh yeah, that’s me. I got it.
Investigator: So you got it for $475, would you be willing to do $425?
Seller: I could probably meet you in between at like $450. That’s the lowest I could take right now.
Investigator: Oh I can do $450. Are you- you’re not a license dealer right? Seller: No I’m not, no.
Investigator: Okay that’s good because I mean I’m only 17 but I’ve been shooting my guns my whole life and I’m going to be 18 in six months.
Investigator: So how do you want to do this? I mean, I can go closer to you.
Seller: When were you wanting to do it?
Investigator: Well maybe over the weekend would be okay if you’re around.
Seller: Oh yeah, okay I’m fine with that. If you want to do it tonight I could, but yeah, anytime this weekend. Just give me a call, or I’ll give you a call back and we’ll work on arrangements or something
Investigator: Alright great.
Investigator: Thanks very much. Bye.