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The Danger of No-Questions-Asked Gun Sales Between Strangers

3.22.2021

Introduction

In too many tragic cases, people legally prohibited from having a gun have been able to arm themselves simply because the law didn’t require a background check. For far too long, inaction has left open a gaping loophole in federal law that creates endless opportunities for individuals with dangerous histories to easily acquire guns, with no questions asked.

The following stories provide a few illustrations of tragedies that could have been prevented if a background check was required when the shooter bought their gun. The stories are presented chronologically. While they do not cover every case, these stories provide important examples of why legislation to require a background check on all gun sales is crucial.

Brookfield, WI | October 2012

A man was barred from possessing firearms following a restraining order taken out by his estranged wife. The day before killing her and two others and injuring four in October 2012 at the Azana Salon in Wisconsin, the man purchased a gun from Armslist.com for $500 without a background check.1Brendan O’Brien, “Milwaukee Mass Shooting Victim’s Daughter Sues Website,” Reuters, October 23, 2015, https://reut.rs/3kQJFwt; Alex Perez, Matthew Jaffe, and Alyssa Newcomb, “Wisconsin Spa Shooting Suspect Radcliffe Haughton Wanted to Leave the State,” ABC News, October 22, 2012, https://abcn.ws/38xqQJU.

Morgantown, WV | December 2014

Four people were shot and killed in December 2014 in Morgantown, West Virginia. The shooter, who was prohibited from having a gun due to multiple felony convictions, was able to purchase a handgun from an unlicensed online seller without a background check before shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend, his cousin, and a business rival.2Bob Mayo, “Police: W.Va. Shooter Was Upset over Ex’s Trysts,” WTAE, December 2, 2014, https://bit.ly/2Z7tqP8; Erin Beck, “Monongalia County Shooter Got Gun on Facebook,” Charleston Gazette-Mail, December 6, 2014, https://bit.ly/31Fvwrp. The shooter was able to purchase the gun through Facebook, which has since banned private gun sales on its website.

New Paris, OH | December 2014

On December 22, 2014, in Ohio, a woman was shot and injured by her ex-boyfriend, who also shot and killed her 10-year-old daughter. A week before the shooting, her killer was arrested for assault, and a restraining order was also filed. The shooter was prohibited from possessing firearms due to a previous felony firearm conviction, but he managed to buy a gun without a background check through a private-sale listing he found online.3Vindu Goel and Mike Isaac, “Facebook Moves to Ban Private Gun Sales on Its Site and Instagram,” New York Times, January 29, 2016, https://nyti.ms/3v9kXwq; Katherine Wright, “Girl, 10, Killed and Mother Shot in Murder-Suicide Incident,” Dayton Daily News, December 23, 2014, https://bit.ly/30P20kz. The shooter was able to purchase the gun through Facebook, which has since banned private gun sales on its website.

Phoenix, AZ | July 2015

A woman was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in the Phoenix home the estranged couple shared. Prior to her murder, the woman tried to get her ex-boyfriend to move out and obtained an order of protection against him. Shortly before the shooting, her killer purchased his gun from an unlicensed seller through a listing he found online even though he could not legally own a gun.4Chris McCrory, “Russian Man Accused of Killing Ex-Girlfriend Is Sentenced to Life in Prison,” Arizona Republic, August 25, 2017, https://bit.ly/3lasTsq. Arizona has since passed legislation to require a background check on all gun sales.

Houston, TX | August 2015

A woman, her husband, and six children—ages 6 to 13—were all killed by her former partner in August 2015 near Houston, Texas. Despite an extensive prohibiting criminal history, the killer was able to buy a gun from a stranger he met online.5Miya Shay, “Family Massacre Suspect Reportedly Details How 8 Killings Were Planned, Executed,” ABC7 Chicago, August 12, 2015, https://abc7.ws/2PQLeKC; Lindsey Bever, “David Conley, Alleged Killer of 6 Children, Says They Were Becoming ‘Monsters,’” Washington Post, August 13, 2015, https://wapo.st/3ldINlL.

Las Vegas, NV | May 2016

A woman was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in May 2016 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. The killer, who also seriously injured her two children in the shooting, was prohibited due to a protective order against him, but was able to purchase a firearm from an unlicensed seller.6Kimber Laux, “Report Reveals Details About North Las Vegas Day Care Shooting,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 17, 2016, https://bit.ly/2q3gvim. Nevada has since passed legislation to require a background check on all gun sales.

Appleton, WI | January 2018

A woman was shot and killed in Appleton, Wisconsin, by her husband. The man, who was prohibited from having a gun under a bond condition in a domestic violence case, was able to purchase a firearm posted on Armslist.com after meeting up with the seller in a Walmart parking lot.7Alison Dirr, “Five Years Apart, Armslist Was Source of Guns in High-Profile Domestic Violence Deaths,” Appleton Post-Crescent, September 19, 2018, https://bit.ly/2Pu4YI9; Alison Dirr, “In 10 Days, a Husband’s Violence Escalated from a Brutal Assault to Murder in Public View,” Appleton Post-Crescent, August 13, 2018, https://bit.ly/3tfCrp2.

Chicago, IL | February 2018

A Chicago police officer was shot and killed by a four-time felon, who was able to purchase the gun on Armslist. The firearm that was used to kill the officer was first sold in Wisconsin—a state that has not closed the private-sale loophole—and the firearm changed hands multiple times before ending up in Chicago. The Wisconsin man who sold the gun had listed more than 200 guns for sale on Armslist, several of which were recovered in crimes. He was subsequently arrested for unlicensed dealing.8Miles Kohrman, “Family of Slain Chicago Police Officer Sues Armslist,” The Trace, February 12, 2020, https://bit.ly/3bj0uNy; Jeremy Gorner, Megan Crepeau, and Elvia Malagon, “Four-Time Felon Charged in Fatal Shooting of Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer,” Chicago Tribune, February 15, 2018, https://bit.ly/3bP5gCM.

Midland and Odessa, TX | August 2019

A man shot and killed seven people and wounded dozens more after a multiple-location shooting in Midland and Odessa, Texas. The shooter had previously tried to purchase a gun from a sporting goods store but since he was legally prohibited from owning guns, the purchase was denied after a background check was conducted. He was ultimately able to purchase an AR-15 assault-style rifle from an unlicensed seller without a background check.9US Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Texas, “Man Who Sold Midland/Odessa Shooter AR-15 Used in Massacre Sentenced for Unlicensed Firearms Dealing,” press release, January 7, 2021, https://bit.ly/38gH36hited.

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.

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