NEW YORK – As the three-year mark of the Sandy Hook anniversary approaches, Everytown for Gun Safety today released Business As Usual, new research and recommendations for how President Obama can take executive action to reduce gun violence by clarifying up the currently unclear definition of which gun-sellers are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms that creates a hazy arena between professional firearm dealers and occasional sellers and allows some sellers to offer guns in high volumes, without background checks, and with near impunity. Drawing on first-of-its-kind research, Everytown provides President Obama with evidence to link the definition of “engaging in the business” of selling firearms – and therefore, a requirement to get a federal firearms license and conduct criminal background checks – to selling 25 or more guns during a one-year period.
To do this, Everytown tested whether unlicensed sellers offering 25 or more guns a year – who play a disproportionate role in the online gun market – are more likely than not to meet multiple additional factors for illegally “engaging in the business” without a license. The results showed that they are, and that they differ significantly from low-volume sellers. This does not preclude the possibility that sellers operating at a slightly lower threshold might also meet these criteria, so this report provides a conservative bar at which a numeric inference for “engaging in the business” might be established.
To underscore the importance of executive action on this issue, Everytown for Gun Safety is also running ads in Washington, D.C. taxis through November 16. The ads feature hidden-camera footage of gun sales by unlicensed sellers at gun shows without background checks. The ads close with a call for President Obama to take executive action now on gun violence. Ads viewable here.
“After the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, the President recommitted his Administration to taking executive action to enforce the laws already in place – and this report reinforces the critical need for the White House to clarify the vague federal law that allows high-volume gun sellers to endanger public safety,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “If the President does not clarify what it means to be ‘engaged in the business’ of selling guns, unlicensed sellers will continue to sell thousands of guns without background checks that flow into the underground market and fuel the gun violence that plagues our country.”
The report examines over four hundred prosecutions of unlicensed firearms dealers across the country, including cases in which high-volume gun sellers flagrantly abused the vague language in current law around what it means to be “engaged in the business” of dealing guns and how that puts American lives at risk. Business As Usual also looks at the country’s largest online gun market, Armslist.com, by analyzing more than a half-million gun ads posted by unlicensed sellers, including sellers who posted as many as 150 guns for sale last year.
The report has three main findings:
1) Prosecutions show that “engaging in the business” without a license is closely linked with gun trafficking across state and national borders, often involves felons and drug criminals, and relies at least in part on existing marketplaces well known for unlicensed gun sales without background checks.
2) The current “engaging in the business” standard lacks the clarity necessary to be an effective law enforcement tool. Even a defendant found selling hundreds of guns and earning tens of thousands of dollars in profit was acquitted.
3) In the online gun market, a narrow group of unlicensed sellers are offering guns in extremely high volumes. These sellers, offering 25 or more guns a year, contribute a disproportionate number of guns to the unregulated market — and they are more likely than not to meet multiple factors for illegally engaging in the business.
“Our research looks at how people sell guns in the U.S. — both those who are dodging licensing requirements due to vague laws and those who sell high volumes of guns through Armslist.com, the country’s largest marketplace for unlicensed gun sales,” said Ted Alcorn, research director for Everytown for Gun Safety. “Our results present undeniable evidence that clarifying the ‘engaged in the business’ standard would help law enforcement crack down on illegal gun trafficking and more effectively prosecute people who violate the law.”
Drawing on this analysis of gun commerce and the prosecutions of gun crimes, the report makes recommendations of how to create a strong “engaged in the business” regulation, including:
1) Codifying the factors that courts are already using to determine if a person is unlawfully “engaged in the business” of selling firearms;
2) Creating an inference that high-volume sellers are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms; and
3) Defining key terms in the law, specifically “personal collection” and “occasional sales.”
Last month Everytown released Beyond Gridlock, a report recommending five life-saving steps the White House can take right now—no Congressional action required—to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
In addition, Everytown, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and America and other partner organizations are driving calls to the White House, gathering petition signatures and taking part in a National Call-In-Day, all focused on urging the Administration to take executive action to reduce gun violence.