Mother Jones, Gawker and other sensationalist news sites are preparing to release articles beginning next Monday detailing the “assault weapons trafficking” that goes on through reddit.com. We know it’s coming — we’ve seen the emails, we’ve talked to the contacts that they’ve tried to meet with and we’ve seen the discussions — and this is being spearheaded by a gun control advocacy section of Reddit called /r/gunsarecool that dances with joy every time there’s a mass murder. Truth be told, Reddit’s gun sales sections are no different than any other website that lists firearms for sale on the net, but because Reddit is one of the most popular websites, the suggestion that a beloved site could be the source of “gun trafficking” might ruffle some feathers. Anyway, before the stories are even finished this is a good opportunity to get the truth about Reddit gun sales out there . . .
1. Background Checks
There are three types of transactions that take place on Reddit, specifically in the /r/gunsforsale section. And each of these is completely legal.
The first type are gun dealers selling excess stock or specialty items. One of those dealers is our very own FirearmConcierge, who regularly lists guns for sale on Reddit for people to buy. By Federal law, these gun dealers are required to only sell their firearms to (a) other licensed gun dealers or (b) individuals face-to-face following a background check. All sales by gun dealers are required to have a paper trail and be recorded in their bound book, which can be examined by the ATF at any time. Just because a gun dealer is selling their guns online does not mean that they skip the background check.
The one exception for dealers not requiring a background check is if the state has a secondary mechanism for making sure criminals aren’t buying guns. Virginia uses their state police system instead of NICS for the checks, for example. And Texas allows those with a Concealed Handgun License (or “CHL,” which requires an extensive background check and fingerprinting, along with a training course and proficiency test) to use their CHL in place of a background check. But either way, a background check is performed at some point in the process.
The second type is a personal sale across state lines. I have sold a couple firearms online this way, and according to Federal law those guns must be shipped to a gun dealer in the buyer’s state. That gun dealer will perform a background check before releasing the gun to the buyer. Failure to do so is a Federal felony, which the ATF will investigate and prosecute.
Both of the previous types of sales require background checks. Failure to perform background checks in these cases is already a federal crime. And as much as the gun control advocates will claim that no background checks are performed for these online gun sales, the truth is that there’s no way for them to know unless they visit every single gun shop and look at their bound books. Which they won’t, so they’ll make up “facts” instead, which MJ will no doubt trumpet.
The third type of sale is a face to face transfer between individuals in the same state. Depending on state law, those transfers do not have to come with a background check and are still completely legal, but the guns must be transferred in person. I’m sure Gawker and MJ will make a big deal out of this, but if they don’t like it they can feel free to change the law.
There is absolutely no proof that any illegal firearms sales are now or have ever been conducted through Reddit’s /r/gunsforsale section.
2. FirearmConcierge Talks About Dealers who Don’t Do Background Checks
Like I mentioned before, certain states have laws in place that require gun dealers to use a background check system that is administered by the state instead of the Federal NICS system. Maryland uses the Maryland State Police. Virginia uses the Virginia State Police. Texas allows those with a Concealed Handgun License to substitute that state issued license for a Federal NICS check when buying a gun from a dealer. And if you have a Federal Firearms License, such as if you’re a licensed gun dealer, you don’t need to pass a background check to buy guns since your license is proof that the ATF has already cleared you. So when FC said the following:
There are plenty of dealers out there who make sales without doing background checks. I know dealers who operate exclusively without doing any background checks.
Really, all he was talking about were the dealers he knows in Texas and elsewhere who deal exclusively with CHL holders and other firearms dealers. It is entirely possible to exist as a firearms dealer and never run a single background check, and furthermore it’s completely legal. In fact, there are many firearms dealers who sell their guns online only, and as a result only deal with other licensed gun dealers and never perform a background check. It’s not unusual, but taken out of context it can be made to seem malicious.
Speaking of the law . . .
3. It’s Completely Legal
There was a court case a few months back where the Brady Campaign tried to sue Armslist (a website which allows people to list their guns for sale) saying that a gun sold on their site was used in a murder and therefore Armslist was liable for the murder. Naturally, the Brady Campaign lost and Armslist was found to have not violated any laws whatsoever. Reddit is the same way — they provide a place for individuals to find each other and trade guns, which is a completely legal thing to do. They even post a warning to remind people to stay within the law:
WARNING: Please be aware of all state and federal laws that apply to you and any parties involved in a firearms-related transaction. You are responsible for knowing and following the law. This subreddit and its staff are in no way responsible for informing you of the law, but will make every effort to do so.
The meat and potatoes of the MJ and Gawker articles is going to be the “OMG people are selling guns on my beloved Reddit!” reaction. Not that what they’re doing is necessarily illegal (although no doubt they will make every attempt to make it sound illegal) but that something people don’t agree with is happening on a site that they visit. They’re depending on the backlash of Reddit users to force this kind of activity off the site, despite the fact that plenty of other areas of the site have far more questionable behavior (such as illegal drugs, how-to sections for emotional manipulation of women, etc).
That’s the interesting double standard that people apply to guns. If you want to sell illegal drugs across state lines, Redditors don’t have a problem with that. But if you want to legally sell guns across state lines with a background check on the buyer, some of them lose their minds simply because Reddit was involved. Discussing drug use in /r/trees is A-OK, but discussing your firearms hobby in /r/guns is abhorrent even though guns are a completely legal and socially acceptable activity.
The fact of the matter is that what /r/gunsforsale is doing is completely 100% legal, and not even the Brady Campaign is able to prove otherwise.
4. Gun owners are not criminals
There’s no doubt that these articles will try to link the legal behavior of gun owners to impending criminal violence. Some of the people in the /r/gunsarecool area have even taken to re-posting people’s pictures of their guns with the title “If this redditor snaps,” implying that gun owners are all nutjobs and waiting to “snap” and kill a whole bunch of people. They’ve done it a couple times to me in the past, such as here and here. But as we’ve proven time and again (and have this handy post to prove) gun ownership does not increase crime, gun owners are more law abiding than the police, and inanimate objects to not posses a demonic spirit that wills the owner into mass slaughter.
According to the statistics, you’re safer being in a room full of people with a concealed handgun license than police officers. But Mother Jones and Gawker don’t care — the narrative is that gun owners are proto-criminals and that’s what they’re sticking with.
5. The forthcoming group firearm purchase is for stripped lowers, not “assault weapons”
The guys in /r/guns are preparing to do a group purchase of custom designed AR-15 lower receivers, with funny images for the rollmark and funny words for the selector labels. I’d like to take a second to point out that, under no definition heretofore presented by gun control advocates or enshrined in any state law, is a stripped lower receiver considered an “assault weapon.” Gun control advocates define an “assault weapon” by the types of attachments the gun has, and a stripped lower has exactly none of those features. In fact, AR-15 rifles have been constructed as far away as England which meet with the approval of the local constabulary as not being “assault weapons.” So to presume that a stripped lower and an “assault weapon” are the same thing is a tad sensationalist and premature. Doesn’t matter to MJ, as they’ve already made up their minds that the AR-15 is inherently evil and gun owners are evil.
The fact is that a stripped lower is no more an assault weapon than a pressure cooker from Williams Sonoma is a bomb.
In short, Mother Jones, Gawker and others are being fed information from a gun control advocacy group to write an article about how evil gun sales are happening on the beloved Reddit. But nothing illegal is going on. It’s sensationalism at its best, the equivalent of an “OMG deadly assault steak knives being sold at WAL MART!” story trying to whip up a public outcry against a group of people minding their own business and following the law. It’s yellow journalism at its finest, with the hate and vitriol being focused directly on law abiding gun owners.