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“Danger in the Land of Enchantment”: Everytown Investigation Shows Criminals in New Mexico Flock to Vast Online Marketplace to Evade Background Checks, Arm Themselves Illegally

One in Every Fifteen Would-Be Online Gun Buyers in New Mexico Is Prohibited from Possessing Firearms; 64 Percent of These Would-Be Prohibited Buyers Faced Open Criminal Charges, Were on Probation or Parole, or Had Warrants Out for Their Arrest at the Time

Senate Bill 48 and House Bill 50 Seek to Close the Loophole in Current New Mexico Law That Allows Criminals, Domestic Abusers and Other Dangerous People to Obtain Guns from Unlicensed Sellers, With No Background Check, No Questions Asked

NEW YORK – Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund today released new research (available here) that shows how New Mexico criminals – including people convicted of serious, violent crimes like attempted kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon; convicted domestic abusers; and even wanted fugitives – are turning to unlicensed internet gun sales to arm themselves with no obligation to undergo a background check, despite being barred by law from buying guns. Senate Bill 48 and House Bill 50 – legislation that will close the background check loophole in New Mexico and require criminal background checks for all gun sales to make the state safer for all New Mexicans – is currently moving through the New Mexico state legislature.

“This investigation shines a light on the way dangerous criminals in New Mexico take advantage of the background check loophole,” said Sarah Tofte, Everytown for Gun Safety Research Director. “The findings are clear: New Mexico criminals—including people convicted of serious violent crimes like domestic violence, attempted kidnapping and armed robbery—turn to online, unlicensed gun sales to arm themselves.”

Key Report Findings

  • On just two popular websites in New Mexico, unlicensed sellers post more than 4,000 unique gun ads annually, none of which legally require a background check.
  • Over the course of a one-month investigation, one in every fifteen individuals (6.7 percent) who were attempting to purchase guns from Everytown investigators was found to have a criminal record that made it illegal for them to purchase or possess a gun.
  • Of those prohibited would-be buyers, 64 percent 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 online is four times higher 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 would stop them.

Online Gun Sales: The Basics

Federal law prohibits certain categories of dangerous people – including people with felony convictions, a history of domestic abuse or dangerous mental illness – from buying or possessing guns. In order to enforce the law, Congress has required licensed firearms dealers to conduct a background check on every would-be buyer since 1998.

But not all gun sales require background checks. Neither federal law nor New Mexico state law requires background checks for guns transferred in unlicensed sales – meaning any sale that is not made by a licensed gun dealer, including sales between strangers who meet online. This means that people legally prohibited from gun possession can purchase a gun through an unlicensed sale with no background check required, no questions asked. Everytown research shows that people who could not pass a background check at a gun store attempt to buy guns through unlicensed sales on the internet instead.

There is strong evidence that closing the background check loophole helps save lives. In states that require background checks for all handgun sales, 47 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners, 53 percent fewer law enforcement officers are killed with guns, and there is 48 percent less gun trafficking in cities.

Methodology: “Danger in the Land of Enchantment” Data Collection

To estimate the number of guns available online through unlicensed sellers in New Mexico, Everytown researchers reviewed ads on two websites, Armslist.com and Backpage.com, both of which are commonly used by New Mexicans to post classified ads offering firearms. Everytown used a software program to record all gun ads posted by New Mexico sellers on both websites over a one-year period, then excluded ads from licensed dealers, ads that did not offer firearms for sale (e.g. ads for ammunition), ads for sales outside of New Mexico, and duplicate ads. Everytown conducted a quality review of the data and adjusted the estimate to account for potential errors.

To assess how frequently criminals, domestic abusers, and other would-be purchasers who are legally prohibited from having guns seek out firearms through unlicensed online sales, Everytown investigators placed 27 for-sale firearm ads – 26 on Armlist.com and one on Backpage.com, over a 36-day period. When respondents to the ad voluntarily provided identifying information, investigators searched publicly available court records to identify whether any of these would-be buyers had felony convictions, domestic violence misdemeanor convictions, bench warrants, orders of protection, or other records that would prohibit them from purchasing a gun.