Federal Probe Shows Just How Easy It Is to Buy Quasi-Legal Guns Online

recent report from the Government Accountability Office details an investigation into online “straw purchases,” or the sale of firearms without federal background checks. Specifically, the GAO examined the murky territory of the so-called “dark web.”

For clarity’s sake, the internet that the average person uses is known as the “surface web,” which can be accessed by any individual or search engine. The “deep web” refers to content that is somewhat restricted, like a private forum. The “dark web,” then, is even more inaccessible to the typical internet user, with content deliberately hidden from those lacking specialized software — like the Tor browser.

Because the federal laws that govern firearm transfers predate the internet, the legality of web-based sales is not entirely clear. While the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives employs a task force dedicated to monitoring firearm sales online, their authority in this realm remains questionable.

As the GAO found, people are indeed selling firearms on all levels of the web. In two particularly notable instances, GAO agents succeeded in not only purchasing two firearms — an AR-15 semiautomatic rife and an illegal Uzi submachine gun — but also acquired them through the mail.

Curiously, in a handful of buy attempts outside of the dark web, agents revealed that they were otherwise barred from legally purchasing firearms. This prompted would-be sellers to back out of the deal. However, if this voluntary admission not been made, these private sellers may have still proceeded with the transaction.

While it’s tempting to blame the dark web or the internet as a whole, that isn’t the root of the problem. Rather, it’s the fact that federal firearm regulations are in dire need of an update to keep pace with today’s rapidly evolving technology. The fact that what is essentially a straw purchase can be made without any in-person contact, let alone a background check, should alarm anyone — regardless of personal views on gun control.

With modernized gun sale laws, the ATF would have more freedom to crack down on people skirting the law. And let’s face it, the type of individual who goes to the dark web to buy a firearm instead of a local federally licensed retailer likely has less than good intentions.

By heavily politicizing guns, conservative lawmakers failed to take action in the face of a widening straw purchase loophole. And that’s a scary prospect when mass shootings have become the norm.

Photo Credit: Max LaRochelle/Unsplash

40 comments

Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

Thanks for sharing the info.

SEND
David F
David F10 months ago

"This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!" -Adolph Hitler, 1935, on The Weapons Act of Nazi Germany.

"Germans who wish to use firearms should join the SS or the SA - ordinary citizens don't need guns, as their having guns doesn't serve the State."
-Heinrich Himmler

SEND
Eric L
Eric Lees11 months ago

@Bill E "It appears that, in some states, it is easier to buy a gun than it is to vote."

Not even close besides background checks for firearm purchase is a federal requirement and not up to the states.

SEND
Clare O
Clare O'Beara11 months ago

th

SEND
Clare O
Clare O'Beara11 months ago

The people doing this will be minimal compared to those buying stockpiles legally including those declared dangerously insane. America is so weird.

SEND
Carole R
Carole R11 months ago

Frightening.

SEND
Winn A
Winn A11 months ago

:-(

SEND
Winn A
Winn A11 months ago

Noted

SEND
Teresa A
Teresa Antela11 months ago

Scary...

SEND
John B
John B11 months ago

Thanks Llowell for the informative article. I wonder how many Republican and Democrat legislators are in the NRA's pocket.

SEND