Federal law loophole and thousands of arms listings make it easy to buy guns online
Susan Best, a press contact at Craigslist, didn't respond to several Guardian queries seeking information about how the company is handling the issue of unpermitted gun postings.
Despite the Illinois crusader's sense of futility, some private gun dealers have migrated away from Craigslist after experiencing pushback from community members who consistently flag the unpermitted posts. The number of gun listings on Craigslist barely registers in comparison with the thousands of weapons readily available on ArmsList.com, a site created to make it easy to shop for guns online.
ArmsList was started in 2009 "by gun owning and gun loving Americans," according to the website, "after seeing firsthand how the popular marketplace sites on the Internet shun firearms." Anyone casually browsing ArmsList gun ads can view phone numbers and emails of sellers without creating an account, and the website does not get involved in sales.
Disturbingly, the New York City investigation found that more than half of the private gun dealers contacted via ArmsList said they'd be willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn't pass a background check. That's illegal, but there isn't much currently in place to prevent it from happening.
Under California law, an unlicensed individual can sell a gun to another individual if both seller and buyer go through a fully licensed dealer, known as a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). The FFL files paperwork for a background check, and releases the weapon only after the buyer's name has cleared and a mandatory 10-day waiting period has passed.
"Bottom line: If you want to sell a firearm, you need to go through a licensed dealer," says Michelle Gregory, a spokesperson for the California Department of Justice. "Even if they're advertising online, they've still got to go through it."
California's rules are some of the strictest in the nation because lawmakers closed the "private-sale loophole" that exists under federal law, says Ben Van Houten, managing attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The loophole, also known as the "gun show loophole," refers to the federal law provision allowing in-state transfers of firearms between private individuals without FFL involvement.
"The issue of online gun sales is most dangerous in states that have not closed the private-sale loophole," Van Houten says. "It's easy to find people you can buy a gun from, without having to pass a background check."
REFORMS ON THE HORIZON
Closing the private-sale loophole is a key piece of a broader gun-law reform agenda unveiled by President Barack Obama Jan. 16. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence applauded the move. "Obama's commitment today — to support federal legislation to fix our background check system and to ban military-style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines — confirms that we are at a historic moment," the organization noted.
The state of New York recently passed gun laws that surpass even California controls, Van Houten noted, because new safeguards were enacted to regulate ammunition sales. In California, several legislative efforts have sought to tighten ammo sales, which are currently unrestricted, but none have been enacted into law.
On the federal level, US Sen. Dianne Feinstein has also introduced legislation to ban high-capacity magazine clips, which can quickly feed 30 rounds of ammo into a rifle. As the Obama Administration advances its gun-law reform agenda, Bay Area residents have also been stirred to action.
San Francisco celebrity Craig Newmark, who founded Craigslist in the mid-1990s and isn't involved in its day-to-day operations, recently urged his followers to support an effort to prevent gun violence.
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