Now that the President has moved the issue of an internet ‘loophole’ for gun sales onto the front burner, perhaps it’s time to really figure out what and whether such a loophole actually exists. As of this morning we have, as usual, John Lott talking for Gun Nation and telling us there is no loophole; on the other hand, The Trace claims there is an internet ‘loophole’ if you live in one of the 32 states that does not regulate private sales. But in fact, of the 18 states that require background checks for private gun transfers, only 8 states mandate background checks for every type of gun; the other 10 states allow for unregulated transfers of long guns which, the last time I pulled out one of my Colt H-BARs, looks like a pretty lethal weapon to me.
Actually, the ability to use the internet for legal, in-state gun transactions is more an issue of the extent to which the internet and websites like Armslist allow sellers to reach a much wider potential audience than would be the case if we were back in the pre-digital age when selling any personally-owned item was usually done by running a print ad in the local classified news. My state happens to regulate private sales, but there are no private sale regulations in four of the six contiguous states that border the state in which I live.
The reason that I would check the listings in these other states is that if I drive to one of those states and buy a gun from a private seller, I give him the money, he gives me the gun, I drive back home and that’s the end of that. And that’s the end of that because those states do not regulate private gun transfers which, in the case of long guns, happens to be true in more than 40 states. Will the seller of an out-of-state gun ask me to prove that I am also a resident of his state? He might, but then again he might not. Remember, if he lives in a state that doesn’t regulate private sales, he’s not breaking any law by selling me that gun. And since he’s not a licensed dealer, he is under no requirement to ascertain whether I am legally able to own that gun, or even keep a record of the sale. I’m breaking the law because I can’t bring an unliensed gun back to my home state. But I didn’t want to submit to a background check anyway, remember?
The situation gets a little trickier with handguns because such transfers tend to be more strictly regulated in many states and folks who sell handguns are generally aware that handguns have a funny way of winding up in the ‘wrong hands.’ So if I want to buy a handgun without submitting to a background check, I probably will stay within my own state, assuming that my state doesn’t regulate private handgun sales. Which is the real impact of the internet as regards the flow of private guns, because I can drive from one end of my state to the other within 3 hours, but could I know of the desire of some seller in another town within my state to get rid of a gun without going online? Of course not.
When the internet first started up, you could find gun listings on Craiglist, other online classifieds including eBay, and you could pay for guns if you had a Paypal account. Those sites quickly banned guns because they decided the liability far outweighed the returns. But I can’t imagine that websites like Armslist or GunsAmerica would voluntarily ban private sales, since that’s their reason for being in business in the first place. As long as the internet operates as a giant flea market and guns are legal commerce, guns are going to be sold online, it’s as simple as that.