In yet another embarrassment for the gun control lobby, a government investigation of online gun sales designed to determine “whether private sellers would knowingly sell a firearm to an individual prohibited from possessing one” determined that … no, actually, they would not. In 72 attempts undertaken over 2 ½ years, undercover agents trying to buy guns through readily-accessible Internet sites failed exactly 100% of the time to complete a sale when the seller had reason to believe the buyer was prohibited or lived in another state.
Ironically, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report -- “Internet Firearm Sales: ATF Enforcement Efforts and Outcomes of GAO Covert Testing” – was commissioned by three staunchly anti-gun members of Congress. Leading the charge was Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who was joined by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The legislators were apparently banking on GAO to replicate the results of three earlier “studies” bought and paid for by über anti-gun sugar daddy Michael Bloomberg, beginning with 2011’s “Point, Click, Fire.” Using a similar methodology to the GAO study (responding to online sales ads with the suggestion they couldn’t pass a background check), Bloomberg’s investigators claimed that 62% of private sellers were nevertheless willing to proceed with the sale.
Two later Bloomberg-backed efforts – one specifically timed to support the Bloomberg-funded “universal background check” initiative campaign in Nevada – claimed to prove that prohibited criminals were posting “want-to-buy” ads for guns. This was supposedly ascertained by comparing information the posters provided with their ads to criminal history records.
Combining the results of the studies, Bloomberg’s lackeys extrapolated that hundreds of thousands of dangerous criminals were acquiring firearms through “unregulated” online sales every year.
Needless to say, Bloomberg and his constantly-rebranding gun control empire – variously known as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Everytown for Gun Safety – argued the results of these publicity stunts “proved” the need for more gun control. The number one policy prescription was a federal “universal background check” law.
Of course, this narrative was picked up and eagerly pushed by the anti-gun media.
But the GAO report also reinforced what the NRA has said all along, that online sales are not “unregulated” but subject to the same federal laws that apply to any other commercial or private gun sales. These include licensing for commercial sellers (with the attendant responsibility to identify buyers, keep transaction records, and run background checks), restrictions for all sellers on transacting across state lines, and a ban on selling to anyone with reason to believe the person is prohibited.
GAO’s findings showed nothing so much as that private sellers advertising online are knowledgeable about the law, conscientious, and self-policing. Fifty-six of the sellers (78%) “outright refused to complete a transaction once our undercover agents revealed either that the shipping address was across state lines or that the agent was prohibited from owning firearms.” In five other cases, the forum on which the ad was posted “froze” the prospective buyers’ accounts and blocked the transaction once information on their prohibited status was revealed. The agents failed to complete the remaining 11 cases because they determined the sellers wanted to take their money without actually making delivery of the firearm.
In every single case, however, the sellers would not deliver a firearm to a buyer they had reason to believe was prohibited or lived in a different state. The GAO report also showed that websites and legitimate sellers were willing to freeze out suspicious actors and cooperate with law enforcement officials to identify and successfully prosecute criminals operating online.
So much for the “Wild Wild Web” that Bloomberg has spent so much time and money trying to conjure in the public imagination.
The investigators went even further, however, and also tried to purchase guns on the so-called “Dark Web,” which the report said “contains content that has been intentionally concealed and requires specific computer software to gain access,” thus affording users “little risk of detection.” The ATF put it more simply, explaining the Dark Web is “designed to facilitate criminal activity online.”
But even on the Dark Web, and even dropping the ruse that they were prohibited purchasers, GAO’s undercover agents were still only able to complete two of seven attempted transactions. One involved a semi-automatic Uzi that had been (apparently falsely) advertised as a machine gun, and the other was an AR-15 with an obliterated serial number. Both cases were referred for further criminal investigation.
Yet in sharp contrast to Bloomberg’s previous efforts, the GAO did not substantiate that most private sellers advertising online are willing to break the law. To the contrary, the GAO results showed that sellers operating on readily-accessible websites understood the law about restricted firearm sales and scrupulously followed it (even if some were seemingly willing to scam apparent criminals out of their money).
In Bloomberg’s world, you get what you pay for, and that includes “investigative” outcomes and fawning attention from the press. But GAO is not on his payroll. To their credit, they did a professional job with their investigation, and the results speak for themselves. Just don’t expect to hear about it from the media this time.