New Report Shows That an Average of 2,300 Ads for Unlicensed Gun Sales are Arranged Through Classified Advertising Each Year; Anecdotal Evidence Suggests Criminals Use Guns Sold Through Classifieds for Trafficking to States With Stronger Gun Laws
Additionally, One Website Hosts More Than 500 Gun Ads Annually for Unlicensed Sales in Maine; Previous Research Shows that Criminals Flock to Online Gun Sales to Avoid Background Checks.
NEW YORK – Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund today released new research (available here) revealing that Maine is home to significant classified advertising and online marketplaces for the unlicensed sale of guns – evidence of a dangerous loophole in Maine law that makes it easy for felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous people to avoid criminal background checks and arm themselves.
Everytown’s investigation into classified ads for guns placed with the magazine Uncle Henry’s and guns offered for sale on Armslist.com, the self-described “Craigslist for guns,” uncovers how nearly 3,000 unlicensed gun sales are offered in Maine over those platforms annually. Unlike sales that occur at federally licensed gun dealers, unlicensed gun sales require no criminal background check, meaning that criminals, firearms traffickers, and domestic abusers can easily purchase a gun despite being barred by federal law from doing so. Previous Everytown research suggests that, in some states, 1 in 10 would-be online gun buyers have criminal histories that bar them under federal law from purchasing or possessing guns.
“Our investigation exposes the size of the unregulated market for gun sales is in Maine – sales that are facilitated by classified and online ads. Close to 3,000 ads for unlicensed gun sales in Maine are placed with Uncle Henry’s and Armslist.com each year, creating an open path for dangerous people to easily get their hands on guns with no background check and no questions asked,” said Sarah Tofte, research director for Everytown for Gun Safety. “This unregulated market makes it all too easy for criminals and domestic abusers who are barred from buying a gun by federal law – people who would fail a background check if they tried to buy a gun from a licensed dealer – to easily avoid a background check altogether. From our past research, we know that criminals and domestic abusers are well aware of this type of unlicensed sale loophole – and they actively exploit it.”
Added Judi Richardson of South Portland, “Six years ago, my beloved daughter, Darien, was killed with a gun purchased in an unlicensed sale, with no background check, no questions asked. It is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns in Maine because of the loophole in the law, and families like mine pay the price. My husband, Wayne, and I will keep fighting to make Maine safer and to save other families from suffering the grief of having a loved one killed.”
- An unlicensed gun sale is just a phone call away from the checkout aisle of any gas station or grocery store where Uncle Henry’s magazine is distributed. An analysis of 44 months of the magazine shows that unlicensed sellers placed more than 8,000 gun ads over that period— an average of more than 2,300 a year.
- The internet is also a burgeoning market for gun sales in Maine. Unlicensed sellers in Maine posted more than 500 gun ads on a single website, Armslist.com. Previous Everytown research suggests that, in some states, 1 in 10 would-be online gun buyers have criminal histories that bar them under federal law from purchasing or possessing guns.
- Unlicensed gun sales pose a danger to public safety because they frequently put firearms in the hands of convicted felons or domestic abusers who would otherwise be blocked from the legal market. They also fuel gun trafficking, as firearms purchased in states with weak laws turn up at crime scenes in neighboring states.
- Recent transfers facilitated through unlicensed sales in Maine have been linked directly to violence:
- Police say that one afternoon in November 2015, Dylan Grubbs met a man in a Shaw’s Supermarket parking lot in Bath, intending to sell him a 9mm Taurus handgun in an unlicensed sale. As Grubbs was showing the buyer the gun, Grubbs himself unintentionally fired it, fatally shooting his girlfriend—the mother of his two children—in the head. Grubbs has entered a not guilty plea.
- In March 2012, Jason Lee Morrill purchased a 9mm handgun from an unlicensed seller via a classified ad listed in Uncle Henry’s. Morrill was prohibited from purchasing the gun due to a previous felony conviction, but the unlicensed seller was not required to conduct a background check. Morrill immediately resold the gun, and two months later it was recovered from a crime scene in the Bronx where a suspect had exchanged fire with a New York City police officer.
- And on January 8, 2010, 25-year-old Darien Richardson of Portland was shot in her bedroom during a home invasion. She died on February 28 of complications from her injuries. On February 10, the same handgun was used to kill a man in Portland. A trace on the gun revealed that, after it was sold by a licensed dealer, it was subsequently sold by an unlicensed seller at a Maine gun show – without a background check. Because no record was kept of that unlicensed sale, as it would have been for a sale by a licensed dealer, law enforcement was unable to continue following the gun and catch the killer. Richardson’s parents are two of the citizen sponsors of the 2016 background check initiative.
- Because there is no record-keeping requirement for unlicensed gun sales, it’s impossible to know how many gun sales are taking place in homes and parking lots across Maine, with no background checks and no questions asked.
To assess the scope of unlicensed gun sales facilitated by ads placed in print editions of Uncle Henry’s, Everytown obtained digital copies of all 188 unique issues of the print magazine published over a nearly four year period — May 17, 2012, to January 14, 2016. Everytown’s automated text analysis reviewed 14,714 unique ads posted during the study period. After removing want-to-buy ads, ads that did not contain the name of at least one major gun manufacturer, ads with a listed price under $100 (indicating ammunition or accessories for sale rather than guns), and ads with phone number matching that of a licensed gun dealer, the software identified 60 percent (8,890) of the ads as unlicensed private sale ads. Researchers then adjusted that sample downward by 5 percent (to 8,446) to account for the rate of ads placed outside of Maine; that number was determined through manual coding of a random 5 percent sample (736) of the 14,714 unique ads. To further verify the analysis, researchers manually reviewed the random sample to ensure that only unlicensed sale ads were included in the final tally. While the automated analysis identified 60 percent of the sample as unlicensed sale ads, the manual coding identified a higher rate; 69 percent of the sampled ads were for unlicensed gun sales, with a 95 percent confidence interval of 66 percent – 73 percent. Therefore, the true number of unlicensed gun sale ads in Maine is likely higher than 8,446. However, to err on the side of being conservative, Everytown is presenting the estimate without that upward adjustment.
To examine the online piece of this unregulated market, Everytown scraped 923 ads, and used automated text analysis to identify 779 unique ads with firearms for sale. To assess the accuracy of that estimate, Everytown researchers manually reviewed a random 10 percent sample of those 779 ads. Ninety-five percent had been classified correctly; 4 percent offered non-firearms goods for sale, and 1 percent were posted by a licensed firearms dealer. Therefore, to present a conservative estimate, Everytown reduced the estimated number of firearms posted annually by unlicensed sellers on Armslist in Maine by 5 percent. That yields a final total of 740 ads over the course of the study period.