“The Wild, Wild Web”: Everytown Investigation Shows Criminals in Nevada Flock to Vast Online Marketplace to Evade Background Checks, Arm Themselves Illegally
NEW YORK – Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund today called attention to its new research (available here) that shows how felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous people are flocking to Nevada’s vast online gun marketplace to evade criminal background checks and arm themselves, despite being barred by law from buying guns. The share of online gun buyers who are prohibited from owning guns is almost seven times higher than the share of Nevadans who try to buy guns at licensed dealers and fail background checks, which suggests that criminals are flocking to this market to exploit the unlicensed sale loophole.
Everytown’s investigation into four websites — Backpage.com, Armslist.com, Gunlistings.com and Facebook – found that nearly one in 11 Nevadans shopping online for guns without background checks (8.7 percent) is prohibited from possessing firearms. On these four websites alone, the investigation estimated that unlicensed sellers posted 35,862 unique gun ads annually. At this rate, those four websites could put more than 3,100 guns into dangerous hands in Nevada in just one year. (On Friday, Facebook announced a groundbreaking new corporate policy that prohibits all unlicensed online sales from being arranged on its platforms).
“Our investigation shines a light on a dark corner of the web, and the results are alarming. Not only are criminals and domestic abusers aware of the unlicensed sale loophole – they are exploiting it,” said Ted Alcorn, research director for Everytown for Gun Safety. “The share of would-be online gun buyers who are prohibited from having guns is almost seven times higher than the share of those who go to a licensed dealer, where there’s a criminal background check to stop the sale.”
Online Gun Sales: The Basics
The online market for guns is vast and growing. Nationally, dozens of websites – like Armslist.com, the self-described Craigslist for guns – each host tens of thousands of ads for unlicensed gun sales and provide a forum for strangers to connect and arrange offline gun transfers, just like Craigslist does for furniture sales and concert tickets. Would-be buyers and sellers can post ads to these websites offering guns “for sale” or to announce their interest in obtaining a firearm with a “want-to-buy” ad. Because federal law does not permit unlicensed sales across state lines, most websites allow users to search for ads by state. When a person seeking a gun identifies a seller – or a person selling a gun identifies a buyer – the two typically negotiate the transfer and arrange to meet offline to complete the transaction.
- On just four websites in Nevada, unlicensed sellers post an estimated 35,862 unique gun ads annually.
- Nearly one in 11 people in Nevada shopping online for a gun without a background check (8.7 percent) is prohibited from possessing firearms, including convicted felons.
- The share of prohibited online gun buyers is almost seven times higher than the share of Nevadans who try to buy guns at licensed dealers and fail background checks.
- At this rate, in a single year, just four websites in Nevada could put over 3,100 guns into the hands of felons and domestic abusers.
Methodology: “The Wild, Wild Web” Data Collection
For this investigation, Everytown Support Fund identified four websites catering to Nevada residents where self-described unlicensed sellers post ads offering firearms: Backpage, Armslist, and Gunlistings — and Facebook, where unlicensed sellers in Nevada use dozens of dedicated pages to arrange gun sales. The websites vary in scale, with a volume of gun ads ranging from just a handful to over ten thousand annually. For the websites Armslist and Gunlistings, all ads posted by self-described “private sellers” that offered firearms for sale or trade were “scraped” on a daily basis from November 1, 2014, to October 31, 2015. For Backpage, all firearm and firearm accessory ads were scraped on a daily basis from August 13 to October 31, 2015, a period of 80 days. To gather data from Facebook, Everytown hired an investigative agency to manually review posts on 27 pages dedicated to gun commerce over a period of four weeks, from December 25, 2015, to January 21, 2016, documenting posts offering guns for sale. After the data was collected, Everytown employed a variety of techniques to eliminate ads that appeared to be duplicates, “want to buy” ads seeking guns rather than offering them, ads offering ammunition or accessories but no firearm, and ads that included language suggesting they were not posted by unlicensed sellers in Nevada.