Felons, domestic abusers, and other people prohibited from owning guns attempt to buy them regularly in Utah—and are stopped because of a background check.
- Since 1998, more than 18,000 sales to prohibited purchasers in Utah have been denied. Each year, the background check system blocks more than 150 illegal sales to convicted felons and over 160 illegal sales to domestic abusers.1Firearm Transfer/Concealed Firearm Permit Statistics. Taylorsville, UT. Utah Department of Public Safety, Criminal Identification (BCI). https://bit.ly/2VrS4YY.
- The Utah Legislature has closed the “Charleston Loophole” by requiring that a background check be complete before a sale may proceed.2Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-526(5). Utah law also requires state authorities to notify local law enforcement of every denial, so police may investigate those illegal attempted purchases.3Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-526(9). And in 2019, the Legislature passed a law requiring prohibiting mental health records to be submitted to the background check system.42019 Utah House Bill 36.
- In 2020, only 1.2 percent of background checks were denied—meaning the vast majority of Utah purchases were not blocked by the background check.5Firearm Transfer/Concealed Firearm Permit Statistics. Taylorsville, UT. Utah Department of Public Safety, Criminal Identification (BCI). https://bit.ly/3kkTrH3.
Utah 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”) shows that each year, 1.2 million online ads offering firearms for sale are listed that would not legally require a background check to be completed—including over 1,700 such posts in Utah.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: One in nine people looking to buy guns from unlicensed sellers would fail a background check, a rate seven times higher than the denial rate at gun stores.7Everytown 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 2019.8Everytown 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 percent of the unlicensed sellers in states without background check laws indicated a background check was required.9Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Unchecked.”
The unlicensed sale loophole diminishes the public safety impact of Utah’s laws that help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
- In 2017, the Utah Legislature passed HB 206, prohibiting people under a domestic violence protective order and people convicted of assault against an intimate partner from having guns.
- In 2018, the Legislature passed SB 27, allowing a court to prohibit dating partners under temporary protective orders from possessing guns.
- But these prohibited domestic abusers can simply circumvent the law and purchase a firearm from an unlicensed seller, skipping a background check altogether.
Too many Utahans are killed or wounded with guns, costing the state billions of dollars.
- Every year, nearly 400 Utahans are killed with guns and over 300 more are wounded.10Centers 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 Utah $2.4 billion each year, of which $48 million is paid by taxpayers.11Ted 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.12Michael 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.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.
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 Utah and complete a background check.
- Requiring background checks on all gun sales would not be burdensome to law-abiding Utahans. In fact, 98.8 percent of Utahans live within 10 miles of a gun dealer—so it’s easy and convenient to get the background check done.14Everytown 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 700 unique gun dealers in Utah, six times as many McDonald’s and four times as many 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 Utah.
- Existing loopholes in the background check law in Utah 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, nearly 7,000 crime guns were recovered in Utah. Ninety-two percent of these crime guns originated in states that do not require a background check on all gun sales, including 76 percent of which originated in Utah.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.