Dangerous People Shopping for Guns Online in New Mexico
Over the month-long investigation period, researchers observed the following individuals attempting to buy guns illegally online, despite the fact that their criminal records barred them from buying or owning guns. Because of the background check loophole, these attempted purchases did not require a background check on the buyer:
|Sept. 24, 2016|
A DOMESTIC ABUSER
|Purchase Attempt: On September 24th, 2016, a 32-year-old man contacted investigators about a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield handgun.|
Prohibiting Factors: In 2010, he pled guilty in Colorado to third-degree misdemeanor assault after
he allegedly punched his live-in girlfriend (the mother of his four-year-old daughter) in the face.
|Sept. 25, 2016|
A CHILD ABUSER OUT ON BOND
|Purchase Attempt: On September 25th, 2016, a 22-year-old man texted investigators about acquiring a Hi Point C9 handgun.|
Prohibiting Factors: In August 2016, he was arrested and charged with felony false imprisonment, felony child abuse, and misdemeanor battery against a household member, along with a number of other misdemeanors, after he allegedly threw his girlfriend and her two children on the floor and down a flight of stairs. He was out on bond, with the explicit condition that he not possess firearms, when he contacted investigators about purchasing the handgun.
|Sept. 25, 2016|
A REPEAT FELON OUT ON BOND FOR DOMESTIC ABUSE
|Purchase Attempt: On September 25th, 2016, a 30-year-old man texted investigators about buying a Hi Point C9 handgun, assuring that he had “cash in hand.”|
Prohibiting Factors: His extensive prior criminal history includes a 2016 conviction for felony possession of a controlled substance and a 2009 conviction of felony theft of identity. At the time he contacted investigators about buying a handgun, he was facing charges of battery against a household member and the conditions of his bond explicitly prohibited him from possessing firearms.
|Sept. 28, 2016|
|Purchase Attempt: On September 28th, 2016, a 40-year-old man contacted investigators about a Glock 26 handgun.|
Prohibiting Factors: In 2002, he was convicted of felony federal possession of heroin with intent to distribute.
|Sept. 29, 2016|
|Purchase Attempt: On September 29th, 2016, a 40-year-old man texted investigators about purchasing four separate handguns.|
Prohibiting Factors: 1998, he pled guilty to five felonies, including two counts of burglary, two counts of larceny, and one count of receiving stolen property, after he attempted to steal two cars and assorted power tools.
|Oct. 1, 2016|
A REPEAT FELON
|Purchase Attempt: On October 1st, 2016, a 27-year-old man contacted investigators about purchasing a Mac-11 semi-automatic pistol. He spoke with investigators over the phone, giving a false name and asking if a bill of sale would be required to complete the transaction, or if it would just be a private sale.|
Prohibiting Factors: He has pled guilty to multiple felonies since 2008, including felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against a household member in 2012, and felony auto burglary in 2009.
|Oct. 4, 2016|
A REPEAT FELON
|Purchase Attempt: On October 4th, 2016, a 55-year-old man emailed investigators about a Taurus Millennium G2 handgun.|
Prohibiting Factors: In 2010, he pled guilty to felony forgery and aggravated DWI, and in 2011, he pled guilty to felony forgery.
|Oct. 6, 2016|
A MAN OUT ON BOND
|Purchase Attempt: On October 6th , 2016, a 30-year-old man contacted investigators about purchasing an AK rifle.|
Prohibiting Factors: In September 2016, he was charged with several felonies, and was out on bond when he contacted investigators about purchasing the rifle. As a condition of his bond, he was not to possess any weapons.
|Oct. 11, 2016|
|Purchase Attempt: On October 11th, 2016, a 32-year-old man contacted investigators about purchasing a 9mm Hi Point handgun.|
Prohibiting Factors: In 2003 he was convicted of felony armed robbery, after he robbed a gas station with a handgun.
|Oct. 12, 2016|
|Purchase Attempt: On October 12th, 2016, a 50-year-old man emailed investigators about acquiring a Hi Point 9mm handgun.|
Prohibiting Factors: In 1989, he was convicted in Illinois of felony possession of a controlled substance.
|Oct. 13, 2016|
A DOMESTIC ABUSER
|Purchase Attempt: On October 13th, 2016, a 26-year-old man left a voicemail for investigators about purchasing a Glock 19 handgun.|
Prohibiting Factors: In 2013, he pled guilty to attempted kidnapping, aggravated battery on a household member, and aggravated assault on a household member, all felonies. According to court documents, he allegedly threatened his fiancée and her infant child while armed, and attempted to choke her.
|Oct. 15, 2016|
A MAN OUT ON BOND
|Purchase Attempt: On October 15th, 2016, a 36-year-old man sent several texts and left a voicemail with investigators about a Kahr PM9 handgun. He asked investigators to call him “right away” if the handgun was still available.|
Prohibiting Factors: At the time he contacted investigators about purchasing the gun, he was on probation, with explicit bond conditions that he not possess firearms, after pleading no contest charges including felony possession of a controlled substance. He was also subject to a bench warrant for failing to appear at a probation violation hearing in the same case.
|Oct. 17, 2016|
AN ALLEGED ABUSER OUT ON BOND
|Purchase Attempt: On October 17th, 2016, a 32-year-old man contacted investigators about purchasing a Glock 23 handgun.|
Prohibiting Factors: In June 2016, he was charged with two crimes, stemming from an incident where he allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend. He was out on bond, with the explicit condition that he not possess firearms, when he contacted investigators about purchasing a firearm. The case was dropped on October 31.
|Oct. 20, 2016|
A MAN OUT ON BOND
|Purchase Attempt: On October 20th, 2016, a 26-year-old man contacted investigators to inquire about a Glock 26 handgun, and called to reiterate his interest six days later.|
Prohibiting Factors: In August 2016, he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering, and was out on bond, with the explicit condition that he not possess firearms or dangerous weapons, when he contacted investigators about purchasing the firearm.
Online Gun Sale Market
Researchers identified two websites catering to New Mexico residents where self-described unlicensed sellers can post ads offering firearms: Armslist.com, and Backpage.com. They then “scraped” (a software technique for collecting online data) all gun ads on both websites on a daily basis for one year, from September 1, 2015, to August 31, 2016.
From Armslist.com, researchers scraped 5,898 total ads. Using a software program coupled with manual review, researchers then excluded ads from licensed dealers; ads that did not offer firearms for sale in New Mexico; and duplicate ads, according to the following definitions:
- Ads from licensed dealers: ads classified by Armslist.com as having an “FFL flag”, or listed by “Premium Vendors”, “Vendors”, or “Dealers”, and ads that were classified as being offered by private sellers but that used the words “dealer”, “FFL”, and/or “licensed” in their title or body text.
- Ads not offering firearms for sale in New Mexico: Ads classified by Armslist.com as “WTB”, or “Want to Buy”; ads that used the words “want to buy”, “wtb”, “looking to buy”, “like to buy”, and/or “want to purchase” in their title or body text; ads with a listed location outside of New Mexico; and ads that did not contain evidence of a firearm for sale in the title, body text, or ad image.
- Duplicate ads: Ads that contained identical first 50-character strings.
From Backpage.com, researchers scraped 273 total ads. Researchers then manually reviewed the title and body text of each ad. When those were not clear, a screenshot of the ad was reviewed. As with the Armslist.com ads, researchers removed ads not offering firearms for sale, ads that appeared to be posted by sellers outside New Mexico; ads that appeared to be posted by a licensed gun dealer; and ads that contained identical first 50-character strings, indicating duplicates. All determinations were made via manual review, with the exception of duplicate identification, which was conducted in Excel.
After these exclusions, the dataset contained 4,135 unique Armslist.com ads, and 60 unique Backpage.com ads, for a total of 4,195 ads from both sites.
Researchers then reviewed a random sample of five percent of the ads (210) to ensure that no ads had been erroneously included. The random sample yielded 206 Armslist.com ads and 4 Backpage.com ads. Of the 210 ads reviewed, seven (3.3 percent) were classified incorrectly. Six of the seven ads offered non-firearm goods (e.g. ammunition or accessories) for sale. One of the seven ads was seeking a gun rather than offering one for sale. No ads were offered by licensed dealers, were offered by sellers residing outside of New Mexico, or were duplicates of other ads in the sample.
To account for those errors of inclusion, researchers applied a 3.3% reduction to the overall volume of observed ads (4,195). That yielded a final estimate of 4,057 unique online ads for unlicensed firearm sales in New Mexico posted on the two websites over the year-long period reviewed.
Would-be Buyers for Online Gun Sales in New Mexico
To sample a group of individuals seeking to buy firearms online in New Mexico, investigators posted 27 ads (26 on Armslist.com, 1 on Backpage.com) offering firearms for sale in New Mexico. The ads were posted between September 23, 2016 and October 29, 2016. Investigators received 209 responses from would-be buyers in the state who voluntarily provided sufficient information, including their names, phone numbers, and/or email addresses, so that they could be identified using reverse lookup phone data or other sources.
Investigators then searched court records in jurisdictions that contain current or past addresses associated with each individual. Any felony convictions, domestic violence misdemeanor convictions, bench warrants, orders of protection, or other records that could be linked to the individual were analyzed to determine if they prohibited purchase or possession of firearms under state or federal law.
Out of 209 would-be buyers, 14 (6.7%) were prohibited from possessing guns (see Appendix 1 for details). These prohibitions would have made it illegal for them to attempt a gun purchase at a licensed dealer, and likely would have caused them to fail a background check, stopping the sale.
The results of this investigation may understate the share of prohibited buyers in the online market, for the following reasons:
- Investigators only examined court records in the jurisdictions where the identified buyer was associated with a current or past address, so individuals who committed prohibiting crimes in other jurisdictions were not identified.
- Some prohibiting court records might not have been identified or reviewed given variations in the availability of public records across jurisdictions.
- Investigators also did not examine records of some non-criminal prohibiting criteria, including dangerous mental illness, dishonorable discharge from the Armed Forces, and immigration status.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.