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Prevent Gun Trafficking


Prevent Gun Trafficking

What does it solve?

The United States lacks strong federal gun trafficking laws to crack down on illegal gun trafficking networks. Congress should pass robust gun trafficking and straw purchasing laws to help keep guns off our streets.

In addition, a loophole that enables many gun sellers to evade the licensed dealer system allows unlicensed sellers to sell high volumes of guns without background checks. Some of these guns are later trafficked into other states and recovered at crime scenes. This loophole should be closed by statute or ATF regulation. States can also help prevent gun trafficking by requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen guns to law enforcement.

Myth & Fact


Anyone who sells multiple firearms in a year is required to get a federal license to deal firearms.


Current federal law requires a person who is “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms to obtain a license. This requires the dealer to run a background check on gun buyers and keep records of sales. Lack of clear guidance on what qualifies as engaging in the business means that some dealers sell many guns a year without obtaining a federal firearm license to deal guns. Weak federal trafficking laws make it difficult for prosecutors to punish even flagrant violators of federal law.

How it works

Congress should pass legislation to create strong, enforceable federal gun trafficking crimes.

The U.S. does not have a federal gun trafficking crime. Prosecutors who want to fight traffickers must rely on a weak law that prohibits selling guns without a federal license which carries the same punishment as trafficking chicken or livestock, or a law that prohibits making a false statement about “any fact material” regarding the legality of a sale when a person acts a straw purchaser, passing the firearm off to another person after buying it.

Federal law requires any gun seller who is “engaged in the business” of dealing in firearms to get a federal firearms license and run background checks on their buyers. But the term “engaged in the business” has been poorly defined by regulation. It is not always clear which sellers are required to become licensed dealers, making it difficult to prosecute a violation of the law. In practice, unlicensed sellers are offering guns online at extremely high volumes without running background checks on buyers. Many of these guns are recovered at crime scenes in states with strong gun laws.

Congress should pass federal legislation creating strong, enforceable federal gun trafficking and straw purchasing crimes. The federal government should also clarify—whether by statute or ATF regulation—which gun sellers must obtain dealer licenses and follow background check laws. People who offer sales at high volumes should be presumed to be not hobbyists, but rather engaged in the business of dealing in firearms. They must either register as a dealer or else demonstrate that they are selling from a personal collection.

One way that states can help combat gun trafficking is by requiring a person to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement. Lost and stolen guns account for a large share of firearms that are illegally trafficked and involved in firearm crimes. Laws requiring that these guns be reported to law enforcement are associated with significant reductions in gun trafficking. Requiring lost and stolen guns to be reported to law enforcement deters illegal gun trafficking by allowing police to respond more quickly to gun thefts and helping police identify tracking patterns.

By the numbers