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“No Questions Asked”: Investigation Shows Criminals in Oregon Flocking to Vast Online Gun Marketplace to Evade Background Checks, Arm Themselves

Everytown Investigation Finds One in Eighteen Oregonians Seeking Guns In Unlicensed Online Sales Is Prohibited from Buying Guns, and an Estimated 1,360 Guns Transferred to Prohibited People Each Year Via Just Four Websites
SB 941, Oregon’s Background Check Bill, Would Close Online Loophole and Help Prevent Crime, Save Lives

PORTLAND, Ore. – Everytown for Gun Safety is today releasing “No Questions Asked,” a first-of-its-kind, Oregon-specific investigation (available here) revealing that criminals in Oregon are flocking to the vast online gun marketplace to evade background checks and arm themselves. The online market for gun sales has eclipsed gun show sales in Oregon: More guns are posted online by unlicensed sellers each week than are sold at the state’s gun shows in an entire year. And unlike sales at gun shows, background checks aren’t currently required for person-to-person transfers that are arranged online.

Everytown’s investigation of four major Oregon classified websites – including Armslist.com, the self-described Craigslist for guns – found that of the identified individuals seeking guns in unlicensed online sales in Oregon, one in 18 (5.4 percent) was prohibited from possessing firearms. That figure is nearly four times higher than the share of Oregonians who try to buy a gun at a licensed dealer and fail a background check, suggesting criminals are intentionally exploiting Oregon’s background check loophole.

The investigation also found that unlicensed sellers in Oregon post guns for sale online at a rate of 25,000 ads each year. At this rate, an estimated 1,360 guns a year could be transferred to prohibited people via these websites alone.

Everytown’s released its findings as Senate Bill 941 – which would close the loophole in Oregon law that allows dangerous people to get guns – passes out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and heads to the Senate floor for a vote. If approved, SB 941 would require background checks for all gun sales and help prevent prohibited purchasers from buying guns using the online market.

“Today’s findings reinforce that we must do more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” said Mayor Charlie Hales of Portland. “It’s unconscionable that a domestic abuser, or anyone else who is legally prohibited from buying a firearm, can go online and get a gun with no background check, no questions asked. Passing SB 941 and requiring a criminal background check for every gun sale will help reduce the illegal use of guns our communities.”

“In Oregon, 25,000 ads for guns are posted online by unlicensed sellers each year, and one out of eighteen of the people seeking to buy them is prohibited from owning guns. This creates a vast, dangerous marketplace, where convicted felons and domestic abusers can buy guns with no questions asked,” said Ted Alcorn, Research Director at Everytown for Gun Safety. “There is overwhelming evidence that background checks are the single most effective way to reduce crime and help save lives—and SB 941 will implement common-sense safeguards to close the online sales loophole and help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

“This investigation highlights something we’ve known for a long time – that the online market for guns leaves a gaping loophole for criminals and other dangerous people to buy a gun without a background check,” said Sarah Finger McDonald, a Corvallis chapter leader with Moms Demand Action, which has nearly 50,000 Oregon supporters. “Moms, faith leaders, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, survivors and responsible gun owners from all walks of life and every corner of the state have come together to support SB 941, a comprehensive background check bill, because we know it will close this online sales loophole and help prevent crime and save lives.”

INVESTIGATION RESULTS

Over the 217-day duration of the investigation, unlicensed sellers in Oregon posted 14,916 ads featuring firearms for sale. At that rate, unlicensed sellers in Oregon would post 25,089 firearm ads to just these four websites each year.

Geographic information that unlicensed sellers provide in the firearm ads indicates where guns are being bought and sold in Oregon. Ad-posters usually include a city or county where they would like to conduct the exchange. Of the 14,916 firearm ads identified, 14,907 (95 percent) included geographic information that could be matched to one of Oregon’s 36 counties. Twenty-two percent of the firearm ads posted by unlicensed sellers were listed in Multnomah County, Oregon’s most populous county. But controlling for population, Deschutes County had the highest prevalence of for-sale firearm ads listed by unlicensed sellers (609 per 100,000 residents), followed by Marion County (539) and Linn County (535). For detailed information and county-specific results, visit the interactive “No Questions Asked” investigation here.

Of the identified individuals seeking guns in unlicensed online sales in Oregon, 5.4 percent (11 of 203) were prohibited from possessing firearms. At this prevalence, gun sales transacted on just four websites could put an estimated 1,360 guns into the hands of felons and domestic abusers in Oregon – and likely many more – in this year alone.

The share of would-be gun buyers with a history of domestic abuse was especially high: more than a quarter of the prohibited gun-seekers had been convicted of a domestic violence crime or was under an active restraining order. This is of particular concern because of the well-documented relationship between access to firearms and fatal domestic violence. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that the woman will be murdered. An Everytown analysis of FBI data shows that of 119 Oregon women murdered by their intimate partners in the last ten years, 60 percent were murdered with guns.

METHODOLOGY: “NO QUESTIONS ASKED” DATA COLLECTION

For this investigation, Everytown identified four websites catering to Oregon residents where self-described unlicensed sellers post ads seeking or offering firearms. The websites range in size, with anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of firearms listed at any given time. Once each day from June 12, 2014 to January 15, 2015, investigators ‘scraped’ (a software technique for extracting online data) all firearm ads posted by self-described “private sellers.” Scraped ads were manually reviewed and those that featured ammunition, accessories, or other goods – but did not include a firearm – were removed.

To characterize the population of would-be gun buyers in Oregon, Everytown contracted an investigative agency to post ads offering firearms for sale on the website Armslist.com. Between November 11 and December 18, 2014, investigators placed 17 ads.

Using the name, phone number, and/or email address voluntarily provided by respondents to the ads, and comparing it to reverse lookup phone data and other public sources, investigators were able to identify 203 unique Oregon residents seeking guns in online, unlicensed sales. The median age was 34 with a range of 18 to 78. Ninety-nine percent (201 of 203) were male.

Investigators then searched public court records in the geographic areas where each individual was known to have maintained a current or past address. Any felony convictions, domestic violence misdemeanor convictions, bench warrants, or orders of protection that could be linked to the individual were subjected to legal analysis to determine if they prohibited possession of firearms under state or federal law.

ONLINE GUN SALES: THE BASICS

The online market for guns is vast and growing. Nationally, dozens of websites – like Armslist.com, the self-described Craigslist for guns – each host tens of thousands of ads for unlicensed gun sales and provide a forum for strangers to connect and arrange offline gun transfers, just like Craigslist does for furniture sales and concert tickets. Would-be buyers and sellers can post ads to these websites offering guns “for sale” or to announce their interest in obtaining a firearm with a “want-to-buy” ad. Because federal law does not permit unlicensed sales across state lines, most websites serve a defined geographic area (“Oregon Gun Trader”) or allow users to search for ads by state. When a person seeking a gun identifies a seller—or a person selling a gun identifies a buyer – the two typically negotiate the transfer and arrange to meet offline to complete the transaction.