The story appeared in print Wednesday just in time to land on the desk of every U.S. senator who opposes a bill to require a background check of everyone seeking to buy a gun on the internet. There are at least 41 of these senators, according to various sources. Enough, as we know all too well, to stop an up-or-down vote on the background-check bill. In a sane world, a few of these men and women might get wise from reading what the Times has to say. But the National Rifle Association has done its work well.
Consequently, as the Senate prepares to vote on as many as nine Democratic and Republican amendments to the gun bill, it is all but certain that the compromise background check bill crafted by Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia doesn't have the 60 votes it needs to defeat a Republican filibuster.
Some internet gun sales constitute legitimate business between sellers who ship their guns to federally licensed dealers for transfer to someone not prohibited from owning firearms. But some internet sales are outside the law. Buyers barred from legally purchasing firearms have little trouble finding sellers who will happily put a gun in their hands for cash. How much of this outlawry is going on can't be determined with any certainty. But Times investigators found plenty to make your head spin if you weren't already aware of these transactions:
Over the past three months, The Times identified more than 170,000 gun ads on Armslist. Some were for the same guns, making it difficult to calculate just how many guns were actually for sale. Even so, with more than 20,000 ads posted every week, the number is probably in the tens of thousands.The Times found many of those private parties seemed to be acting instead as gun dealers without licenses, selling significant numbers of firearms. They do so without running background checks on any of the people they sell do. Nor do they keep records of their sales. As the newspaper points out, where the line is drawn about what makes a dealer and what makes a private seller is blurry. How many guns can someone sell before becoming what the law calls a “person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit.”
Notably, 94 percent of the ads were posted by “private parties,” who, unlike licensed dealers, are not required to conduct background checks.
An undercover City of New York investigation published 16 months ago concluded that Armslist provides the communication medium needed for sellers and buyers to conduct illegal gun business. After making contact via internet ads, they meet somewhere face to face. No background checks required, no records kept, no identification need. Some of the ads, the Times noted, include lines like “no questions asked” and “no paperwork.” The intent is clear, the seller doesn't care whether the buyer just got paroled for pistol whipping his wife or has a clean record. If he's got the money, he gets the gun.
Please continue reading below the fold to learn what the investigation learned.
Of 125 people advertising guns for sale in 14 states on Craigslist and five on-line gun sites:
• 62 percent of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check [That is a felony.]Guns advertised on those websites have been sold to minors and murderers.
• City investigators posing as illegal purchasers asked five of these sellers to meet in person and exchange the guns for cash. All five agreed. The investigators bought four handguns and a semi-automatic assault rifle while recording the transaction with hidden cameras.
• Private sellers on Craigslist had the highest failure rate — roughly 82 percent — even though the site has a policy prohibiting firearms listings. The City also investigated
unlicensed sellers on Armslist (54% failure rate), Gunlistings (77% failure rate), KSL.com (67% failure rate) and Glocktalk (78% failure rate).
Even if background checks were required for internet sales, some people bent on no good would acquire firearms. Buyers would find sellers willing to risk prison time. But requiring background checks and strictly enforcing the law, with stings and persistent monitoring of gun-sales websites, would reduce the number of people who get firearms they aren't legally allowed to have.
However, at least 41 senators think keeping guns out the hands of criminals is not as important as getting that top NRA grade for adherence to the organization's twisted view of the 2nd Amendment. That view and the twisted campaign the gun lobby has used to back it up finally provoked Manchin to blast the organization Wednesday morning:
“I’m a lifetime member of the NRA, I think you all know that, and I’ve been a proud card-carrier,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I used to get their magazines and their bulletins and I said ‘My goodness, I’m glad they are fighting that. I’m against that too.’ But when when they are basically so disingenuous and telling members that our legislation would, I quote, ‘criminalize the private transfer of firearms by private citizens.’ This bill does not even touch” private sales.As a life-long member of the NRA, the senator certainly took his sweet time coming to the conclusion many Americans long ago figured out. Unfortunately, it's not just the background-check bill that will wind up dead because of the organization's lies.
“That’s just a lie, Joe,” host Joe Scarborough told Manchin.
“It is a lie, Joe,” Manchin said in response.