Today Everytown for Gun Safety released an analysis of new FBI data showing that the federal background check system is working in Vermont, blocking more than 3,000 gun sales to prohibited purchasers since 1998. These blocked sales include 279 gun sales to drug offenders, 356 to people convicted of domestic violence or subject to protection orders, and 983 sales to convicted felons.
But Everytown’s analysis also provides evidence that criminals are increasingly evading these checks by purchasing guns in unlicensed sales. The share of gun purchases that were denied fell by nearly half between 2002 and 2013, suggesting that criminals may be seeking guns from unlicensed sellers — including transactions online and at gun shows, where background checks are not required —an easy way to sidestep the public safety measure aimed at keeping guns out of dangerous hands.
Drugs and Guns in Vermont
In light of the dangerous connection between guns and drugs in Vermont, illegal drug users and traffickers appear to be increasingly exploiting this loophole. Everytown’s analysis shows that the share of background check denials for unlawful drug use tripled between 2008 and 2013, from 6 percent to 18 percent. Just last week, convicted opiate drug dealer Christopher Pappano was arrested at his home in Milton, where police found a .45 caliber pistol. As a convicted felon, Pappano is prohibited under federal law from purchasing or possessing firearms.
Domestic Violence and Guns in Vermont
There is a deadly relationship between guns and violence against women in Vermont. Over the last 20 years, half of all Vermont homicides were domestic violence related, and 56 percent of domestic violence homicides were committed with a firearm. The background check system has helped keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers – since 1998, 356 domestic abusers convicted of domestic violence or subject to protection orders have been blocked from buying guns – but those same individuals can fail a background check at a licensed gun dealer, and then find guns online with no questions asked.
Since 1998, federal law has required licensed gun dealers to conduct a background check for every firearm purchase. Prospective gun buyers are screened against the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which blocks gun sales to people deemed too dangerous to possess firearms under federal law—including felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill.[i]
Details of the Analysis
Today’s analysis from Everytown shows that since 1998 the federal background check system has blocked 3,034 gun sales to prohibited people in Vermont, including 983 gun sales to felons, 356 to domestic abusers, and 279 gun sales to unlawful drug offenders.[ii] Between 1998 and 2013, the number of background checks conducted each year in Vermont has increased, reflecting an increase in the number of gun sales by licensed firearm dealers.
But between 2002 and 2013, the share of total background checks that were denied fell by nearly half, from 1.2% to 0.7%. This is consistent with the hypothesis that criminals are increasingly aware that a background check will block them from buying guns at licensed dealers—and are seeking guns from unlicensed sellers online and at gun shows, where no background checks are required under current law. In a September 2013 investigation of illegal online gun sales, Felon Seeks Firearm, Everytown found that one in 30 people seeking guns from unlicensed sellers on the national website Armslist.com had a criminal record or domestic violence history that prohibited gun ownership. This is nearly four times the share of people seeking firearms at licensed dealers who are prohibited and blocked by the background check system.
Method and Appendix — Full Data
Everytown obtained the data from the FBI through a Freedom of Information Act request and calculated the number of gun sales in Vermont that were denied between 1998 and 2014 by type and over time:
|Criteria for prohibiting firearm ownership||Denials||Share of total|
|Federally Denied Persons File||1,039||34%|
|Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year, such as murder, or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years||983||32%|
|Unlawful User/Addicted to a Controlled Substance||279||9%|
|Fugitive from Justice||247||8%|
|Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence Conviction||171||6%|
|Adjudicated Mental Health||31||1%|
|Renounced U.S. Citizenship||1||0%|