With the Senate poised to take up a bill to strengthen gun laws -- including a provision to expand the background check system to cover Internet sales -- The New York Times has published a report detailing the "unregulated bazaars" of Internet arms sales.
Right-wing media and the National Rifle Association have been fervent opponents of proposals to expand the background check system. The Times report indicates just what they have been supporting - an unregulated marketplace in which, at a single website, more than 20,000 ads are posted each week for guns that can be purchased by felons and those with mental illness without undergoing a background check.
The Times detailed how they contacted Omar Roman-Martinez, a Colorado felon banned from owning guns who nonetheless was posting want ads at the gun sales portal Armslist.com seeking to buy a handgun for $250 cash. The Times explained:
The mere fact that Mr. Roman-Martinez was seeking to buy and sell guns on Armslist underscores why extending background checks to the growing world of online sales has become a centerpiece of new gun legislation being taken up in the Senate this week. With no requirements for background checks on most private transactions, a Times examination found, Armslist and similar sites function as unregulated bazaars, where the essential anonymity of the Internet allows unlicensed sellers to advertise scores of weapons and people legally barred from gun ownership to buy them.
The bipartisan Senate compromise under consideration would require that background checks be conducted through federally licensed dealers on all Internetand gun show sales. Gun control advocates argue that such checks might have prevented shootings like that of Zina Haughton, 42, who was killed in October with two other women by her husband, Radcliffe, even though a restraining order barred him from having guns. Mr. Haughton simply contacted a private seller on Armslist and handed over $500 in a McDonald's parking lot for a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol and three magazines.
Seeking a glimpse into the largely hidden online gun market, The Times assembled a database and analyzed several months of ads from Armslist, which has become the dominant player in the arena, and examined numerous smaller sites.
Over the past three months, The Times identified more than 170,000 gun ads on Armslist. Some were for the same guns, making it difficult to calculate just how many guns were actually for sale. Even so, with more than 20,000 ads posted every week, the number is probably in the tens of thousands.
Notably, 94 percent of the ads were posted by ''private parties,'' who, unlike licensed dealers, are not required to conduct background checks.
A 2011 investigation by New York City found that these online sellers are more than willing to sell firearms to those who say they wouldn't be able to pass a background check. But opponents of the background check system are apparently unconcerned about potentially dangerous people getting ahold of firearms.