Repeatedly burned by stings intended to demonstrate the ease with which individuals who are banned from purchasing firearms can buy guns from private sellers without passing a background check, the National Rifle Association appears to have found a solution: Make those stings illegal. As usual, their allies at the American Legislative Exchange Council are happy to help.
ALEC documents obtained by Common Cause indicate that in August 2011, NRA lobbyist Tara Mica presented an "Honesty in Purchasing Firearms" bill to ALEC's since-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which the task force adopted as model legislation. Mica has at times served as the task force's Private Sector Chair.
The bill states that "[a]ny person who provides to a licensed dealer or private seller of firearms or ammunition what the persons knows to be materially false information with intent to deceive the dealer or seller about the legality of a transfer of a firearm or ammunition is guilty of a felony." Violators are punished with up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
According to the group's minutes, the state legislators on the task force voted unanimously to adopt the legislation; the motion to adopt the bill also passed among its private sector members.
The NRA has explicitly stated that such legislation is intended to target undercover stings by gun violence prevention activists intended to shine a light on some unscrupulous private sellers. Those efforts typically involve individuals telling private sellers that they don't think they could pass a federal background check, which are not required for the transfer of firearms by private sellers, and being permitted to purchase the weapon nonetheless.
Since it is illegal to sell firearms to individuals if you have reason to suspect they cannot legally possess them, the NRA-backed ALEC law effectively shields criminal activity.
The report by NRA's Institute for Legislative Action that the task force had adopted the model bill singles out by name the efforts of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (emphasis in original):
The "Fraudulent Firearm Purchase Prevention Act" (or "Honesty in Purchasing Firearms Act") would protect lawful firearm retailers from illegal gun sting operations such as those by anti-gun New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has sent hired agents into other states to attempt illegal firearm purchases in an effort to blame federally licensed firearm retailers for gun crime in New York City and around the country. This legislation has been enacted in seven states: Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia and West Virginia.
In April, NRA-ILA trumpeted the signing of similar legislation in Utah, saying that the bill was based on "NRA model legislation to protect lawful firearm retailers from illegal gun sting operations such as those by anti-gun New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg." In February they used similar language in discussing a bill introduced in Mississippi.
In January 2011, following the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others at a public meeting she was holding in Tucson, AZ, Bloomberg sent a team of investigators to a Phoenix gun show in an attempt to show "how easy it is for anyone to buy a semi-automatic handgun and a high-capacity magazine [the weapons used by the shooter], no questions asked." The investigators reportedly "found they could easily purchase firearms in Arizona without a background check -- even if they volunteered to the sellers that they 'probably couldn't pass a background check anyway.'" The investigation received national news coverage.
In 2009, Bloomberg sent investigators to gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee, and Nevada, finding that "19 out of 30 private sellers made the sale" after being informed that the investigator probably could not pass a background check. New York City released a similar investigation targeting online sellers in December 2011 which found that "Seventy-seven of 125 online sellers agreed to sell a gun to someone who said he could not pass a background check -- a 62% fail rate."
Bloomberg is not the only one conducting such stings; in February, NBC's Jeff Rosen presented the results of his own hidden-camera investigation into private sellers on Today. The ALEC model legislation provides an exemption for any "law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity"; it provides no such exemption for members of the media.
On April 17 ALEC announced that they were eliminating the Public Safety and Elections task force, which had drawn fire for its central role in promoting legislation similar to the Florida a "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law that experts say may prevent the successful prosecution of Trayvon Martin's killer. The NRA, a longtime member of and donor to ALEC, reportedly objected to the change.