Online Gun Sales
There are little to no failsafes online.
In October 2016, a violent felon from Deming tried to buy a gun. He had recently served time in prison for three felonies related to a domestic violence incident: armed with a revolver, he choked his fiancée, told her he would break her neck, and tried to force her into the trunk of her car.1 His felony convictions made it illegal for him to buy or possess firearms — but now he was online and actively shopping for a Glock handgun. If he had tried to buy one at a licensed dealer, where background checks are legally required, his felony convictions would have blocked the sale. Instead, he turned to online ads—where, because of a loophole in the law in New Mexico, gun sales can be arranged with no background check required.
Policymakers have long recognized that it’s dangerous for people with a felony conviction, a history of domestic abuse, or serious mental illness to have guns.2 People with such records, like the man described above, are legally prohibited from buying or possessing guns. That’s why licensed gun dealers—Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, or any of the hundreds of local gun stores across New Mexico—are legally required to contact the background check system to run a check on every buyer. When someone who is not allowed to have a gun attempts to make a purchase, the background check blocks the sale.
But there’s a problem with this system. In New Mexico, because of a dangerous loophole in the law—referred to as the background check loophole—background checks are not required when guns are sold by individuals who are not licensed dealers.3 These sales are called “unlicensed” gun sales, and they aren’t just taking place between friends or neighbors—they’re taking place on the internet. Websites like Armslist.com, the “Craigslist for guns,” provide a platform for unlicensed gun sales to be arranged online, between strangers. Because of the background check loophole, criminals can turn to these online unlicensed sales to arm themselves illegally, no background check required, no questions asked.
To understand how often criminals in New Mexico take advantage of the background check loophole to buy guns in unlicensed online sales, Everytown investigators (1) examined the size of the state’s unlicensed online sale market, and (2) posted for-sale ads online, tracking how many responses were from New Mexicans prohibited by law from
buying or possessing firearms.
The findings are unambiguous: New Mexico criminals—including people convicted of crimes like attempted kidnapping, armed robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon—are turning to unlicensed online gun sales to arm themselves. That’s exactly what the convicted felon from Deming did. In October 2016, he responded to an online ad (posted by an Everytown investigator) for a Glock 19 handgun.
This report demonstrates that:
- On just two popular websites, New Mexico unlicensed sellers post more than 4,000 unique gun ads annually, none of which legally require a background check.
- One in fifteen (6.7%) individuals who were attempting to purchase guns from Everytown investigators was found to have criminal records that made it illegal for them to purchase a gun. Of particular concern, 64 percent (9 of 14) of those prohibited buyers were facing open criminal charges, were on probation or parole, or had warrants out for their arrest when they contacted investigators.
- The rate of attempted illegal purchases is four times higher online than it is at New Mexico’s licensed dealers, indicating that people legally prohibited from gun possession may be turning to unlicensed online sales rather than attempting a purchase at a licensed dealer where a background check is required.
Online gun sales aren’t always a threat to public safety, but when they happen without background checks, that’s exactly what they can become. In states that require background checks for all handgun sales— not just sales at licensed dealers—the toll of gun violence is lower, including fewer women shot to death by their intimate partners, and fewer law enforcement officers shot and killed in the line of duty.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have acted in the interests of public safety and closed the background check loophole. New Mexico hasn’t joined them yet—and until that changes, thousands of guns will remain accessible to any criminal with an internet connection, no background check required, no questions asked.
Everytown For Gun Safety