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Background Checks and Florida

1.22.2020

Summary

Florida state authorities regularly stop prohibited purchasers from making illegal gun purchases. And yet Florida has not closed the unlicensed sale loophole, meaning that prohibited people can take advantage of the unlicensed gun market—and get armed illegally.

In a single year, there were nearly 100,000 online gun sale ads on Armlist.com in Florida that would not require a background check. And one in seven prospective Florida buyers on that site would have failed a background check.

Florida also passed a landmark set of gun safety laws after the 2018 Parkland shooting, but the unlicensed sale loophole undermines those laws in the state every single day. Florida has already advanced the ball for firearm background checks, closing the “Charleston Loophole” and allowing counties to require background checks at gun shows and in public.

Felons, domestic abusers, and other prohibited people attempt to buy guns regularly in Florida—and are stopped only by a background check. 

Since 1998, more than 120,000 sales to prohibited purchasers were denied in Florida— including over 38,500 illegal sales to convicted felons and over 17,700 illegal sales to prohibited domestic abusers.1 Karberg JC, Frandsen RJ, Durso JM, Buskirk TD, Lee AD. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Background checks for firearm transfers, 2015 – Statistical tables. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/bcft15st.pdf. Data for 2016 through 2018 were obtained by Everytown from the FBI directly. Though the majority of the transactions and denials reported by FBI and BJS are associated with a firearm sale or transfer, a small number may be for concealed carry permits and other reasons not related to a sale or transfer.

The state Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is responsible for all background checks at the point of purchase. The Florida Legislature has empowered FDLE to stop illegal purchases, closing the “Charleston Loophole” by requiring that a FDLE background check must be complete before any sale may proceed.2Fla. Stat. § 790.0655.

Only 1.4% of background checks were denied in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available—meaning more than 98% of Florida purchases were not affected by the background check.3Karberg JC, Frandsen RJ, Durso JM, Buskirk TD, Lee AD. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Background checks for firearm transfers, 2015 – Statistical tables. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/bcft15st.pdf.

In November 1998, a 72 percent majority of Florida voters approved a constitutional initiative enabling counties to require background checks at gun shows and property open to the public, demonstrating overwhelming state support for background checks.4See https://ballotpedia.org/Florida_Firearms_Purchases,_Amendment_12_(1998). While ten counties have taken action to require background checks in these locations, representing

over half the state’s population,5As of 2018, the counties had the following estimated populations, according to the U.S. Census Bureau: Alachua County: 269,956, Broward County: 1,951,260. Pinellas County: 975,280, Hillsborough County: 1,436,888, Leon County: 292,502, Miami-Dade: 2,761,581, Orange County: 1,380,645, Palm Beach: 1,485,941, Sarasota: 426,718, Volusia: 547,538. As of 2018, the estimated population of Florida was 21,299,325. this measure is not comprehensive enough to prevent illegal sales effectively, including that the online marketplace is not covered.


Florida has not closed the unlicensed sale loophole, meaning felons, domestic abusers, and other prohibited people can skip a background check and get armed simply by seeking an unlicensed seller at a gun show or online. Recent data gives a glimpse at the size of that loophole in Florida.

A recent study of the online gun market Armlist.com revealed a massive marketplace where unchecked gun sales are taking place between complete strangers meeting online, allowing criminals and other prohibited purchasers an easy avenue for access.

In 2018 alone, there were 93,497 Florida ads on Armslist.com for firearm sales that would not require a background check. In fact, Florida had the second highest number of total ads that did not require a background check across the country.6Everytown for Gun Safety. Unchecked: Over 1 Million Online Firearm Ads, No Background Checks Required. February 2019.https://every.tw/2UXjYwf.

Further investigation into those looking to purchase firearms on Armslist.com revealed that 1 in 7 prospective buyers in Florida would have failed a background check—a rate nearly 10 times higher than those who fail background checks at licensed dealers or in other contexts where background checks are required. Ø Critics of background check laws claim they will not make a difference in how guns are sold. But Everytown’s investigation showed that laws matter. Unlicensed sellers in states that have passed background check laws show a high degree of compliance— with 84 percent of sellers from states with background check laws directly stating the sale would need a check, and no one in Florida indicating a background check was required.


 The unlicensed sale loophole diminishes the public safety impact of the landmark gun laws that Florida passed after the Parkland shooting.

After the February 2018 Parkland shooting, the state legislature passed critical gun safety legislation. Among other reforms, that package raised the minimum age to purchase firearms in Florida and set up the Extreme Risk process, enabling law enforcement to intervene and ask a judge to temporarily prohibit gun possession by people who are a danger to themselves or others. But underage buyers and people subject to Extreme Risk orders can simply circumvent the law and purchase a firearm from an unlicensed seller, skipping a background check altogether.  

Between March and July 2018, 108 petitions were filed in Broward County alone. Of these cases, 28 were where the person was accused of domestic violence, 45 where the person was suffering from mental illness, and 34 where the person was contemplating suicide.7Lipscomb J. Florida’s post-Parkland “Red Flag” law has taken guns from dozens of dangerous people. Miami New Times. August 7, 2018. https://bit.ly/2ORW56U. Florida’s Extreme Risk law was invoked that year to stop a potential school shooter who said killing people would be “fun and addicting.”8Lipscomb J. Florida’s post-Parkland “Red Flag” law has taken guns from dozens of dangerous people. Miami New Times. August 7, 2018. https://bit.ly/2ORW56U. And yet without background checks required on all gun sales, those individuals could simply buy guns with no questions asked.

Among the prospective Amslist.com gun buyers in Florida in 2018, 1 in 10 were under 21 years old and not eligible to purchase firearms under state law solely because of their age.9Everytown investigators posted advertisements for firearms for sale in Florida. Investigators did not possess any of the firearms being listed for sale nor did they complete any transactions as part of this investigation. Investigators then conducted telephone, text, or email communications with prospective buyers and verified the identity of 111 individuals in Florida looking to purchase a firearm. By conducting searches of publicly available records, investigators were able to determine that 11 of these prospective buyers in Florida were under the age of 21 and prohibited from purchasing a gun in Florida solely due to their age.  And yet without background checks required on those sales, those individuals may have been able to get armed illegally.


Too many Floridians are killed with guns.

Every year, over 2,500 Floridians are killed with guns and thousands more are shot and injured.10Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017. 

State laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales – by point-of-sale check and/or permit – are associated with lower firearm homicide rates, lower firearm suicide rates and lower firearm trafficking.11Siegel M, Boine C. What are the most effective policies in reducing firearm homicides? Rockefeller Government Institute. 2019; Fleegler EW, Lee LK, Monuteaux MC, Hemenway D, Mannix R. Firearm legislation and firearm-related fatalities in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2013; 173(9):732-740; Webster DW, Vernick JS, Bulzacchelli MT. Effects of state-level firearm seller accountability policies on firearm trafficking. Journal of Urban Health. 2009. 86(4):525–537; Federal law bars felons from having firearms, but does not bar misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context. Webster DW, Vernick JS, McGinty EE, & Alcorn T. Preventing the diversion of guns to criminals through effective firearm sales laws. In Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. 2013.Vol. 9781421411118, pp. 109-121. A 2019 analysis found that states with laws requiring background checks for all gun sales have homicide rates 10 percent lower than states without them.12Siegel M, Boine C. What are the most effective policies in reducing firearm homicides? Rockefeller Government Institute. 2019. 13 Everytown analysis of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) dealers and U.S. population. Data on licensed gun dealers were obtained from the ATF through November 2018 here: https://bit.ly/2SPLs9O . Data on census block groups were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau here: https://bit.ly/2BCfBzw . Distance was calculated between the centroid of each census block group and each licensed dealer to determine the closest dealer.


It is convenient to find a licensed dealer in Florida and complete a background check.

Requiring background checks on all gun sales would not be burdensome to law-abiding Floridians. In fact, 99.8 percent of Floridians live within 10 miles of a gun dealer—so it’s easy and convenient to get the background check done.13 There are 2,728 unique gun dealers in Florida, nearly three times as many as McDonald’s and six times as many as post offices.13Federal Firearms Listings. Washington, D.C. ATF. https://bit.ly/2SPLs9O. Analyses were done to determine the latitude and longitude of each licensed dealer and duplicates by latitude, longitude, and state were removed for a total of 2,728 unique licensed gun dealers in Florida; Andrews, Colman. Is your state ‘lovin’ it’? A look at where the most McDonald’s are located in the US. USA Today.https://bit.ly/2vWWugb; Postmaster Finder. Washington, D.C. United States Postal Service. https://bit.ly/2qiWoOi.


Loopholes in the background check law enable gun trafficking in Florida.

Existing loopholes in the background check law in Florida are negatively impacting states that have closed the background check loophole. Research has shown that state laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales are associated with 48 percent lower rates of gun trafficking in cities and 29 percent lower rates of gun trafficking across state lines.14Webster DW, Vernick JS, Bulzacchelli MT. Effects of state-level firearm seller accountability policies on firearm trafficking. Journal of Urban Health. 2009. 86(4):525–537; Federal law bars felons from having firearms, but does not bar misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context. Webster DW, Vernick JS, McGinty EE, & Alcorn T. Preventing the diversion of guns to criminals through effective firearm sales laws. In Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. 2013.Vol. 9781421411118, pp. 109-121.

Between 2013 and 2017, over 16,500 crime guns that originated in Florida were recovered in crimes in states outside of Florida—nearly half of these crime guns were traced in states that have comprehensive background check laws.15Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Firearms trace data. https://bit.ly/2nigapL. Totals were developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017. This excludes crime guns recovered in Colorado and Delaware in 2013, Washington in 2013 and 2014, and Oregon in 2013 through2015 before these states passed comprehensive background check laws.

And the unregulated, online marketplace has enabled prohibited purchasers to weaken state background check laws by traveling to neighboring states without these laws. Between 2016 and 2017, three individuals were arrested for trafficking an estimated 90 firearms purchased on Armslist.com and Facebook into Illinois from Kentucky. These firearms were subsequently linked to violent crimes in Illinois.16Yablon A. Chicago felons busted for gun trafficking bought weapons via Armslist and Facebook. The Trace. May 16, 2018. Available at https://bit.ly/2SchxFp.  

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