Good News: GAO Investigators Tried to Illegally Obtain Guns Online...And Got Denied Every Time

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Posted: Jan 08, 2018 4:01 PM
Good News: GAO Investigators Tried to Illegally Obtain Guns Online...And Got Denied Every Time

After the horrific shooting at a Texas church this past fall -- a deadly spree that was finally ended by an NRA instructor wielding an AR-15 rife -- it was revealed that the killer should never have been able to purchase his weapon in the first place.  He was ineligible due to his criminal past, yet a failure in the federal bureaucracy led to a crucial, and lethal, oversight.  Tragically, a similar government error allowed the Charleston church shooter to gain access to guns.  Both of those sick murderers should have been legally barred from owning firearms, yet both fell through the cracks of a legal regime designed to keep guns out of the hands of people precisely like them.  Those egregious mistakes led gun rights advocates to ramp up their calls for the government to properly enforce the laws that are already in place, rather than pile up additional rules and regulations (even as some of those may be worthwhile, too).  

With all of that as a grim backdrop, it's also important to highlight instances of the system actually working the way it's designed to work and protecting the people it's supposed to protect.  Writing at the Free Beacon, Stephen Gutowski describes how Government Accountability Office officials made dozens of attempts to illegally purchase guns on the Internet -- and came up empty.  Encouraging: 

Federal agents posing as criminals were unable to purchase any firearms from legitimate online marketplaces despite dozens of attempts over a two-year period. Between July 2015 and November 2017 investigators from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), following up on a congressional request, tried to make the illegal private gun purchases through a number of online forums and market places. They made 72 attempts over that time but couldn't complete a single sale using legitimate sites. In 29 attempts the gun sellers refused the sale after being asked to illegally ship the gun to the buyer. Twenty-seven sellers refused after being told the potential buyer was a felon, domestic abuser, or otherwise prohibited from buying a firearm...

"Tests performed on the Surface Web demonstrated that private sellers GAO contacted on gun forums and other classified ads were unwilling to sell a firearm to an individual who appeared to be prohibited from possessing a firearm," Seto J. Bagdoyan and Wayne McElrath of the GAO's Forensic Audits and Investigative Service section said in a report on the investigation released in November. The investigation specifically targeted online sales by private sellers who do not have a federal firearms license and, in most states, aren't required to perform background checks on potential buyers. The investigators wanted to see if private sellers on otherwise legitimate online gun forums and marketplaces would break federal law by knowingly selling firearms to somebody who isn't allowed to buy them.

They discovered that no, private sellers would not do so.  This result suggests that fears over much-discussed background check "loopholes" may be overblown.  Investigators were more successful in their criminal efforts on the so-called "dark web," which is infamous for illegal activity. They procured two illegal guns in just seven attempts. The Internet's lawless underbelly is a dangerous and frightening place. The GAO often prods for weaknesses, vulnerabilities and abuses across various levels of government. One memorable example was its agents' ability to fraudulently obtain Obamacare subsidies (in 11 of 12 attempts), as well as exposing unlawful abortion funding under the law.  I'll leave you with Reason's write-up of this story: