Felons, domestic abusers, and other people prohibited from owning guns attempt to buy them regularly in Indiana—and are stopped because of a background check.
- Since 1998, more than 59,000 sales to prohibited purchasers have been denied in Indiana. Each year, the background check system blocks nearly 3,000 illegal sales to convicted felons and nearly 500 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 2018 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.
Indiana 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 over 63,000 ads on Armslist offering firearms for sale in Indiana where no background check is legally required.2Everytown 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 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.3Everytown 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.
- 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 indicated a background check was required.4Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Unchecked.”
The unlicensed sale loophole undermines the public safety impact of Indiana’s Extreme Risk law.
- In 2005, in response to a 2004 shooting of five police officers that resulted in one fatality, Indiana passed an Extreme Risk law, which enables law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from a person in crisis.
- In the 10 years after Indiana passed its Extreme Risk law, the state’s firearm suicide rate decreased by 7.5 percent.5Kivisto AJ, Phalen PL. Effects of risk-based firearm seizure laws in Connecticut and Indiana on suicide rates, 1981-2015. Psychiatric Services. 2018; 69(8): 855-862. It has been estimated that the law averted one suicide for approximately every 10 gun removals.6Swanson JW, Easter MM, Alanis Hirsch K, et al. Criminal justice and suicide outcomes with Indiana’s risk-based gun seizure law.Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 2019 Apr 15. pii: JAAPL.003835-19.
- Recognizing the importance of the law, the Indiana legislature strengthened its Extreme Risk law in May 2019 by prohibiting the person from whom firearms were removed from purchasing and possessing new firearms.72019 Indiana House Bill 1651.
- However, despite the 2019 improvement, the unlicensed sale loophole continues to undermine Indiana’s Extreme Risk law by enabling these prohibited purchasers to circumvent a background check by seeking out an unlicensed seller online or at a gun show.
Too many Indianans are killed or wounded with guns, costing the state billions of dollars.
- Every year, over 950 people in Indiana are killed with guns and over 1,600 others are wounded.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 Indiana $6.6 billion each year, of which $300 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. 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.11Michael 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.
- Requiring background checks on all gun sales would not be burdensome to law-abiding Indianans. In fact, all Indianans 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: https://bit.ly/2SPLs9O . Data on census block groups were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau here: https://bit.ly/2BCfBzw. Distance was calculated between the centroid of each census block group and each licensed dealer to determine the closest dealer. There are nearly 1,400 unique gun dealers in Indiana, four times as many as McDonald’s and two times as many as post offices in the state.13Federal 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 Indiana.
- Existing loopholes in the background check law in Indiana 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.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.
- Between 2015 and 2019, over 30,000 crime guns were recovered in Indiana. Ninety-five percent of these crime guns originated in states that do not require a background check on all gun sales, including 82 percent of which originated in Indiana.15Bureau 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.
- A 2017 report from the Chicago Police Department found that 21 percent of the crime guns recovered in Chicago came from Indiana, and three of the top 10 source dealers were located in Indiana.16Gun Trace Report, 2017. Chicago Police Department. https://bit.ly/2Jl3iM2
- 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.17Yablon A. Chicago felons busted for gun trafficking bought weapons via Armslist and Facebook. The Trace. May 16, 2018. Available at https://bit.ly/2SchxFp.