Felons, domestic abusers, and other people prohibited from owning guns attempt to buy them regularly in West Virginia—and are stopped because of a background check.
- Since 1998, a total of more than 28,000 sales to prohibited purchasers were denied in West Virginia. Each year, the background check system blocks an average of 538 illegal sales to convicted felons and 191 illegal sales to domestic abusers.1Everytown 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.Karberg 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 background checks at the point of purchase, the West Virginia Legislature has helped the FBI block illegal purchases by authorizing prohibiting mental health records to be submitted to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).2W. Va. Code § 61-7A et seq. As of December 2020, West Virginia had submitted over 74,000 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.
West Virginia 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 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.4Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Unchecked: An Investigation of the Online Firearm Marketplace. February 2021. https://bit.ly/3ufNKio.
- 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 2019.5Everytown 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 indicating a background check was required.6Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Unchecked.”
Too many West Virginians are killed or wounded with guns, costing the state billions of dollars.
- Every year, 320 people in West Virginia are killed with guns and 760 more are wounded.7Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. EveryStat: West Virginia. http://everystat.org/#WestVirginia. Centers 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 West Virginia $2 billion each year, of which $67 million is paid by taxpayers.8Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. EveryStat: West Virginia. http://everystat.org/#WestVirginia. Ted 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.9Michael 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.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.
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 West Virginia and complete a background check.
- Requiring background checks on all gun sales would not be burdensome to law-abiding West Virginians. In fact, 98.9 percent of West Virginians live within 10 miles of a gun dealer—so it’s easy and convenient to get the background check done.11Everytown 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 900 unique gun dealers in West Virginia, nine times as many McDonald’s in the state.12Federal 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 C. Is your state ‘lovin’ it’? A look at where the most McDonald’s are located in the US. USA Today. September 13, 2018. Available at https://bit.ly/2vWWugb.
Loopholes in the background check law enable gun trafficking in West Virginia.
- Existing loopholes in the background check law in West Virginia are negatively impacting gun trafficking rates 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.13Daniel 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 West Virginia. Eighty-eight percent of these crime guns originated in states that do not require a background check on all gun sales, including 72 percent of which originated in West Virginia.14Bureau 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.15Yablon A. Chicago felons busted for gun trafficking bought weapons via Armslist and Facebook. The Trace. May 16, 2018. Available at https://bit.ly/2SchxFp.