Background Checks and Florida
Florida state authorities regularly stop prohibited purchasers from making illegal gun purchases. And yet Florida 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 require a background check on all gun sales.
Florida also passed a landmark set of gun safety laws, including an Extreme Risk law, after the 2018 Parkland shooting, but the unlicensed sale loophole undermines those laws in the state every single day. Florida has already advanced the ball for firearm background checks, closing the “Charleston loophole” and allowing counties to require background checks at gun shows and in public.
Felons, domestic abusers, and other people prohibited from owning guns attempt to buy them regularly in Florida—and are stopped because of a background check.
- Since 1998, more than 133,000 sales to prohibited purchasers have been denied in Florida. Each year, the background check system blocks more than 4,000 illegal sales to convicted felons and over 2,000 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. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/bcft15st.pdf. 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.
- The Florida Legislature has closed the “Charleston loophole” by requiring that a background check must be completed by the Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) before any sale may proceed.2Fla. Stat. § 790.0655.
- Only 1.3 percent of background checks were denied in 2017, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available—meaning the vast majority of Florida purchases were not blocked by the background check.3Connor Brooks, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Background checks for firearm transfers, 2016-2017 – Statistical tables. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/bcft1617.pdf.
- In November 1998, a 72 percent majority of Florida voters approved a constitutional initiative enabling counties to require background checks at gun shows and property open to the public, demonstrating overwhelming state support for background checks. 4See https://ballotpedia.org/Florida_Firearms_Purchases,_Amendment_12_(1998). While at least ten counties have taken action to require background checks in these locations, representing over half the state’s population,5As of 2019, the counties had the following estimated populations, according to the U.S. Census Bureau: Alachua County: 269,043, Broward County: 1,952,778. Pinellas County: 974,996, Hillsborough County: 1,471,968, Leon County: 293,582, Miami-Dade: 2,716,940, Orange County: 1,393,452, Palm Beach: 1,496,770, Sarasota: 433,742, Volusia: 553,284. As of 2019, the estimated population of Florida was 21,477,737. this measure is not comprehensive enough to prevent illegal sales effectively, in part because it does not cover the online marketplace.
Florida 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 Armlist.com (“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 100,000 ads on Armslist offering firearms for sale in Florida where no background check is legally required. In fact, Florida has the second highest number of total ads that did not require a background check across the country.6Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Unchecked: An Investigation of the Online Firearm Marketplace. February 2021. https://bit.ly/3ufNKio.
- 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 seven people looking to buy guns from unlicensed sellers in Florida would have failed a background check, a rate nearly ten times higher than the denial rate at gun stores.
- 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 number of posts on Armslist in 2020 by people in Florida looking to purchase a firearm that did not require a background check increased 54 percent over the number of posts in 2019.7Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Undeniable: How Long-Standing Loopholes in the Background Check System Have Been Exacerbated by COVID-19. December 2020. https://bit.ly/2M7E9ZJ.
- 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 no one in Florida indicating a background check was required.
The unlicensed sale loophole diminishes the public safety impact of the landmark gun laws that Florida passed after the Parkland shooting.
- After the February 2018 Parkland shooting, the state legislature passed critical gun safety legislation. Among other reforms, that package raised the minimum age to purchase firearms in Florida and set up the Extreme Risk process, enabling law enforcement to intervene and ask a judge to temporarily prohibit gun possession by people who are a danger to themselves or others. But underage buyers and people subject to Extreme Risk orders can simply circumvent the law and purchase a firearm from an unlicensed seller, skipping a background check altogether.
- Between March 2018 and December 2019, more than 3,200 petitions for an Extreme Risk order were filed in Florida, with at least one petition filed in 88 percent of counties in Florida.8Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Extreme Risk Laws Save Lives. January 2021. https://bit.ly/3uta1t9. Florida’s Extreme Risk law was invoked in 2018 to stop a potential school shooter who said killing people would be “fun and addicting.”9Lipscomb J. Florida’s post-Parkland “Red Flag” law has taken guns from dozens of dangerous people. Miami New Times. August 7, 2018. https://bit.ly/2ORW56U. And yet without background checks required on all gun sales, individuals under Extreme Risk orders could simply buy guns with no questions asked.
- Among the prospective Amslist gun buyers in Florida in 2018, 1 in 10 were under 21 years old and not eligible to purchase firearms under state law solely because of their age.10Everytown investigators posted advertisements for firearms for sale in Florida. Investigators did not possess any of the firearms being listed for sale nor did they complete any transactions as part of this investigation. Investigators then conducted telephone, text, or email communications with prospective buyers and verified the identity of 111 individuals in Florida looking to purchase a firearm. By conducting searches of publicly available records, investigators were able to determine that 11 of these prospective buyers in Florida were under the age of 21 and prohibited from purchasing a gun in Florida solely due to their age. And yet without background checks required on those sales, those individuals may have been able to get armed illegally.
Too many Floridians are killed or wounded with guns, costing the state billions of dollars.
- Every year, over 2,750 Floridians are killed with guns and over 4,200 more are shot and wounded.11Centers 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 deaths and injuries cost Florida $20 billion each year, of which $855 million is paid by taxpayers.12Ted R. Miller, analysis of CDC fatal injury: 2018 and HCUP nonfatal injury: 2017.
- States with 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.13Michael Siegel and Claire Boine, What Are the Most Effective Policies in Reducing Gun Homicides? Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute of Government, March 2019. https://bit.ly/2YPAz7P; 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.14Michael Siegel and Claire Boine, What Are the Most Effective Policies in Reducing Gun Homicides? (Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute of Government, March 2019) https://bit.ly/2YPAz7P.
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 Florida and complete a background check.
Requiring background checks on all gun sales would not be burdensome to law-abiding Floridians. In fact, 99.8 percent of Floridians live within 10 miles of a gun dealer—so it’s easy and convenient to get the background check done. There are 2,764 unique gun dealers in Florida, three times as many as McDonald’s and six times as many as post offices in the state.15Federal Firearms Listings. Washington, D.C. ATF. https://bit.ly/2SPLs9O. 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. https://bit.ly/2vWWugb; Postmaster Finder. Washington, D.C. United States Postal Service. https://bit.ly/2qiWoOi.
Loopholes in the background check law enable gun trafficking in Florida.
- Existing loopholes in the background check law in Florida are negatively impacting gun trafficking within the state Research has shown that state laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales are associated with 48 percent lower rates of gun trafficking in cities and 29 percent lower rates of gun trafficking across state lines.16Daniel 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): 525–37; Federal law bars felons from having firearms, but does not bar people with misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context from having firearms; 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.
- Between 2015 and 2019, over 84,000 crime guns were recovered in Florida. Ninety-three percent of these crime guns originated in states that do not require a background check on all gun sales, including 78 percent which originated in Florida.17Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Firearms trace data. https://bit.ly/2nigapL. Totals were developed using five years of most recent available data: 2015 to 2019.
- And the unregulated, online marketplace has enabled prohibited purchasers to weaken state background check laws by traveling to neighboring states without these laws. Between 2016 and 2017, three individuals were arrested for trafficking an estimated 90 firearms purchased on Armslist.com and Facebook into Illinois from Kentucky. These firearms were subsequently linked to violent crimes in Illinois.18Yablon A. Chicago felons busted for gun trafficking bought weapons via Armslist and Facebook. The Trace. May 16, 2018. Available at https://bit.ly/2SchxFp.