Skip to content

Unchecked: Over 1 Million Online Firearm Ads

No Background Checks Required

1.3.2019
A person types on a laptop

Summary

Our federal background check law was written 25 years ago, long before the establishment of online gun marketplaces like Armslist.com. Federal law only requires a background check when the seller is a licensed gun dealer, leaving all other sales — like unlicensed gun sales negotiated over the internet — unregulated and unchecked.

Some states require background checks on unlicensed sales, but over 30 states do not. To understand this online loophole, Everytown reviewed all firearm posts on Armslist.com from 2018, and conducted investigations of unlicensed sellers, online buyers and the process for purchasing a firearm. Key findings of the investigation include:

  1. In 2018 alone, there were nearly 1.2 million ads for firearm sales that would not require a background check
  2. 1 in 9 prospective online buyers would not have passed a background check
  3. Sales of guns found on Armslist.com were completed with less than three minutes of face-to-face interaction and no background check
  4. Only 6% of the unlicensed sellers in states without background check laws indicated they would require a background check on their sales, while 84% of sellers from states with background check laws directly stated the sale would need a check.

Investigative video shows the purchase of two firearms found on Armslist.com.

The cash transactions took minutes and did not include background checks.

Footnotes:

* Maryland and Pennsylvania did require background checks on sales of some high-powered rifles and shotguns; this analysis does not calculate which specific sales were covered by the laws in those states.

** In 2016, Nevada passed a ballot initiative requiring background checks on all gun sales, however, the former Nevada Attorney General argued the law could not be enforced, which meant that, in practice, background checks were not required on unlicensed gun sales in 2018.

*** Vermont’s law went into effect April 11, 2018; this analysis does not calculate which sales were not covered in that state.

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.

The Latest