Felons, domestic abusers, and other people prohibited from owning guns attempt to buy them regularly in South Carolina—and are stopped because of a background check.
- Since 1998, a total of more than 79,000 sales to prohibited purchasers have been denied in South Carolina. Each year, the background check system blocks over 3,000 illegal sales to convicted felons and over 300 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.
- While the FBI is responsible for all background checks at the point of purchase, the South Carolina Legislature has helped the FBI block illegal purchases. In 2013, the Legislature passed House Bill 3560, requiring prohibiting mental health records—both future records and existing records—to be submitted to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).2The law required courts to submit retroactive information on prohibited individuals going back a minimum of ten years, or if records were not available as far back as ten years, as far back as possible. As of December 2020, South Carolina had submitted more than 103,000 prohibiting mental health records to NICS.3Federal Bureau of Investigation, Active Records in the NICS Indices by State, accessed February 22, 2021, https://bit.ly/3pOgwCZ.
South Carolina 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 56,000 ads on Armslist offering firearms for sale in South Carolina where no background check is legally required.4Everytown 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.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. 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 only 6% of the unlicensed sellers in states without background check laws indicating a background check was required.7Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Unchecked.”
Too many South Carolinians are killed or wounded with guns, costing the state billions of dollars.
- Every year, more than 900 South Carolinians are killed with guns and nearly 1,800 more 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 South Carolina $6.1 billion each year, of which $298 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. It is convenient to find a licensed dealer in South Carolina and complete a background check.
- Requiring background checks on all gun sales would not be burdensome to law-abiding South Carolinians. In fact, 99.4 percent of South Carolinians 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 more than 1,000 unique gun dealers in South Carolina, four times as many McDonald’s and nearly three times as many 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 South Carolina.
- Existing loopholes in the background check law in South Carolina 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.14Daniel 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, nearly 25,000 crime guns were recovered in South Carolina. Eighty-eight percent of these crime guns originated in states that do not require a background check on all gun sales, including 74 percent of which originated in South Carolina.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.
- 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.16Yablon A. Chicago felons busted for gun trafficking bought weapons via Armslist and Facebook. The Trace. May 16, 2018. Available at https://bit.ly/2SchxFp.