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Prevent Gun Trafficking

Prevent Gun Trafficking

What is the problem?

The United States lacks strong federal gun trafficking laws to crack down on illegal gun trafficking networks. Gun trafficking and straw purchasing laws could help keep guns off our streets.

In addition, a loophole that enables many gun sellers to evade the licensed dealer system allows unlicensed sellers to sell high volumes of guns without background checks. Some of these guns are later trafficked into other states and recovered at crime scenes. This loophole could be addressed by statute or ATF regulation. States can also help prevent gun trafficking by requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen guns to law enforcement.

How it Works

Requiring a person to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement

The U.S. does not have a federal gun trafficking crime. Prosecutors who want to fight traffickers must rely on a weak law that prohibits selling guns without a federal license which carries the same punishment as trafficking chicken or livestock, or a law that prohibits making a false statement about “any fact material” regarding the legality of a sale when a person acts a straw purchaser, passing the firearm off to another person after buying it.

Federal law requires any gun seller who is “engaged in the business” of dealing in firearms to get a federal firearms license and run background checks on their buyers. But the term “engaged in the business” has been poorly defined by regulation. It is not always clear which sellers are required to become licensed dealers, making it difficult to prosecute a violation of the law. In practice, unlicensed sellers are offering guns online at extremely high volumes without running background checks on buyers. Many of these guns are recovered at crime scenes in states with strong gun laws.

One way that states can help combat gun trafficking is by requiring a person to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement. Lost and stolen guns account for a large share of firearms that are illegally trafficked and involved in firearm crimes. Laws requiring that these guns be reported to law enforcement are associated with significant reductions in gun trafficking. Requiring lost and stolen guns to be reported to law enforcement deters illegal gun trafficking by allowing police to respond more quickly to gun thefts and helping police identify tracking patterns.

By the numbers

Myth & Fact


Anyone who sells multiple firearms in a year is required to get a federal license to deal firearms.


Current federal law requires a person who is “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms to obtain a license. This requires the dealer to run a background check on gun buyers and keep records of sales. Lack of clear guidance on what qualifies as engaging in the business means that some dealers sell many guns a year without obtaining a federal firearm license to deal guns. Weak federal trafficking laws make it difficult for prosecutors to punish even flagrant violators of federal law.

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Prevent Gun Trafficking