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Background Checks and Alaska



Background check authorities regularly stop prohibited purchasers from making illegal gun purchases in Alaska. And yet Alaska has not closed the unlicensed sale loophole, meaning that people prohibited from owning guns can take advantage of a thriving market for unlicensed sales—and get armed illegally. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has intensified our country’s gun violence crisis, it’s now more important than ever for Congress to take swift action by passing legislation to update our background check system.

Alaska has already taken action relating to firearm background checks, requiring prohibiting mental health records to be submitted to the federal background check system.

Felons, domestic abusers, and other people prohibited from owning guns attempt to buy them regularly  in Alaska—and are stopped because of a background check. 

  • Since 1998, more than 17,000 sales to prohibited purchasers in Alaska have been denied. Each year, the background check system blocks nearly 400 illegal sales to convicted felons and over 200 illegal sales to domestic abusers.1Karberg JC, Frandsen RJ, Durso JM, Buskirk TD, Lee AD. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Background checks for firearm transfers, 2015 – Statistical tables. Data for 2016 through 2019 were obtained by Everytown from the FBI directly. Though the majority of the transactions and denials reported by FBI and BJS are associated with a firearm sale or transfer, a small number may be for concealed carry permits and other reasons not related to a sale or transfer.

Alaska has already taken action relating to firearm background checks, requiring prohibiting mental health records to be submitted to the federal background check system.

  • While the FBI is responsible for background checks at the point of purchase, the Alaska Legislature has helped the FBI block illegal purchases. In 2014, the Legislature passed a law requiring prohibiting mental health records to be submitted to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).22013 Alaska House Bill 366. And in 2019, the Legislature strengthened this law by requiring reporting of records issued on or after 2011.32019 Alaska House Bill 49.

Alaska has not closed the unlicensed sale loophole, enabling prohibited purchasers to skip a background check by seeking out an unlicensed seller, who is not required to do a background check, at a gun show or online. Dramatic research shows the scale of this gaping loophole, as the vast market for no-questions-asked online gun sales has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • An investigation of the online gun market (“Armslist”) revealed a massive marketplace where unchecked gun sales are taking place between complete strangers meeting online, allowing criminals and other prohibited purchasers an easy avenue for access.
  • Each year, there are more than 2,100 ads on Armslist offering firearms for sale in Alaska where no background check is legally required.4Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Unchecked: An Investigation of the Online Firearm Marketplace. February 2021.
  • Each one of those posts is an opportunity for a prohibited purchaser to acquire a gun. And research shows prohibited purchasers actively seek out these unregulated ads: in 2018, one in nine people looking to buy guns from unlicensed sellers would have failed a background check, a rate seven times higher than the denial rate at gun stores.5Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Unchecked.”
  • Throughout the pandemic, demand for guns from the online marketplace has dramatically increased. The surge in demand at gun stores has been well documented, but research shows the surge extends to sales that can take place with no background check. The average number of posts on Armslist between March and September 2020 by people across the US looking to purchase a firearm in states that do not require background checks on all sales doubled over the same period in 2019.6Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Undeniable: How Long-Standing Loopholes in the Background Check System Have Been Exacerbated by COVID-19. December 2020.
  • Critics of background check laws claim they will not make a difference in how guns are sold. But Everytown’s investigation showed that laws matter. Unlicensed sellers in states that have passed background check laws show a high degree of compliance—with 84 percent of sellers from states with background check laws directly stating the sale would need a check, and only 6 percent of the unlicensed sellers in states without background check laws indicating a background check was required.7Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Undeniable.”

Too many Alaskans are killed or wounded with guns, costing the state billions of dollars.

  • Every year, over 170 people in Alaska are killed with guns and over 330 more are shot and wounded. In fact, Alaska has the highest rate of gun deaths in the United States.8Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2015 to 2019; Ted R. Miller and David Swedler, analysis of HCUP nonfatal injury: 2017.
  • Gun violence costs Alaska $1 billion each year, of which $43 million is paid by taxpayers.9Ted R. Miller, analysis of CDC fatal injury: 2018 and HCUP nonfatal injury: 2017.
  • State laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales – by point-of-sale check and/or permit – are associated with lower firearm homicide rates, lower firearm suicide rates and lower firearm trafficking.10Michael Siegel and Claire Boine, What Are the Most Effective Policies in Reducing Gun Homicides? Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute of Government, March 2019.;  Eric W. Fleegler, Lois K. Lee, Michael C. Monuteaux, David Hemenway, and Rebekah Mannix, “Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States,” JAMA Internal Medicine 173,no. 9 (2013): 732-740; Daniel W. Webster, Jon S. Vernick, and Maria T. Bulzacchelli, “Effects of State-Level Firearm Seller Accountability Policies on Firearm Trafficking,” Journal of Urban Health 86, no. 4 (July 2009): 525–537. Federal law bars felons from having firearms but does not bar misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context. Daniel W. Webster, Jon S. Vernick, Emma Beth McGinty, and Ted Alcorn, “Preventing the Diversion of Guns to Criminals Through Effective Firearm Sales Laws,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, 109-121. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013. A 2019 analysis found that states that require a background check on all gun sales have homicide rates 10 percent lower than states without them.11Michael Siegel and Claire Boine, What Are the Most Effective Policies in Reducing Gun Homicides? (Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute of Government, March 2019)

Congress can blunt the dangers of the online gun marketplace by requiring background checks on all gun sales—without creating burdens for gun buyers. The proposal in Congress would require an unlicensed seller and potential buyer to go to a gun store to facilitate the background check. This would be the exact same process used when a person buys a gun directly from a gun store. It is convenient to find a licensed dealer in Alaska and complete a background check. 

  • Requiring background checks on all gun sales would not be burdensome to law-abiding Alaskans. In fact, 93.5 percent of Alaskans live within 10 miles of a gun dealer—so it’s easy and convenient to get the background check done.12Everytown analysis of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) dealers and U.S. population. Data on licensed gun dealers were obtained from the ATF through October 2020 here: . Data on census block groups were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau here: Distance was calculated between the centroid of each census block group and each licensed dealer to determine the closest dealer. There are more than 500 unique gun dealers in Alaska, seventeen times as many McDonald’s and three times as many post offices in the state.13Federal Firearms Listings. Washington, D.C. ATF. Analyses were done to determine the latitude and longitude of each licensed dealer and duplicates by latitude, longitude, and state were removed; Andrews, Colman. Is your state ‘lovin’ it’? A look at where the most McDonald’s are located in the US. USA Today.; Postmaster Finder. Washington, D.C. United States Postal Service.

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