Government Study Proves How Hard It Is to Buy an Illegal Gun Online

In the quest for increased regulations on firearms, one common refrain from gun control activists is how easy it is for illegal guns to be bought and sold online. This story from NPR in 2016 specifically targeted Armslist, but while it made a lot of accusations it never actually proved that anyone was buying or selling guns in violation of the law. The closest it came was to use a Mayors Against Illegal Guns study (funded by gun control activist Michael Bloomberg) to imply that some sellers on the site might have a criminal background. In an effort to put some hard data behind the claims, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) funded an operation which attempted to see how successfully a prohibited person (as defined in 18 USC 922) could purchase a firearm online. The result? A 0% success rate on the public internet.

From the study:

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. Of the 72 attempts agents made to purchase firearms on the Surface Web, 56 sellers refused to complete a transaction: 29 sellers stated they would not ship a firearm and 27 refused after the disclosure of the undercover identities’ stated prohibited status. Furthermore, in 5 of these 72 attempts, the accounts GAO set up were frozen by the websites, which prevented the agents from using the forums and attempting to make a purchase.

When the GAO investigators went a little deeper into the shady Dark Web, a layer of the internet only accessible through encrypted tunnels, they did see some success in buying two firearms — an AR-15 and an Uzi which was converted for full auto fire. But even there, out of seven attempted purchases only two succeeded.

Of these seven attempts, two on a Dark Web marketplace were successful. Specifically, GAO agents purchased and received an AR-15 rifle and an Uzi that the seller said was modified so that it would fire automatically. GAO provided referral letters to applicable law enforcement agencies for these purchases to inform any ongoing investigations.

While the media and gun control activist organizations might scream about the easy availability of guns online, the reality is that unless you’re skilled enough to find your way onto the dark web then the chances of you illegally buying a gun are slim to none. Every single person the GAO investigators attempted to purchase a gun from on the normal public internet followed the law and refused to sell their firearm.

Not that the gun control activists care. They don’t seem interested in facts anyway.

comments

  1. just goes to show you that the antis are really communist and we should start calling them that because that is the truth. gun control has nothing to do with crime control. it is all about taking away the power of the people and making the government all powerfull, just like a communist country.

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        So so long mommy, I’m off to kill a commie
        So send me a salami and try to smile somehow
        I’ll come back to you when the war is over
        Just an hour and a half from now

        — Tom Lehrer (1965)

        1. avatar jwm says:

          The war will be over by Christmas. They’re always over by Christmas.

        2. avatar Joe R. says:

          Until there is no enemy.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      The only problem is, calling them what they are, ‘communist’, is *complimenting* them.

      That’s a badge of honor for those scumbags…

      1. avatar BLoving says:

        Okay, fine. Call them something equally true but ostensibly repugnant to them: bigots. They hate and want to repress the freedom of gun owners.
        “While the media and gun OWNER control activist organizations might scream about the easy availability of guns online,” FIFY, Nick!
        🤠

        1. avatar Illinois_Minion says:

          Fascist. Tyrant.
          These seem of the qualities you define. And they sound as offensive as their opinions.

          I sometimes wonder if some of them are being indignant, conflicting, offensive, to force attention upon themselves. Save the SnowFlake!

      2. avatar pwrserge says:

        Well, if you consider being associated with the most genocidal ideology in human history to be a compliment, there’s no helping you. You can’t argue with genocidal maniacs.

        1. avatar Jonathan-Houston says:

          No, no, no it isn’t the ideology’s fault. Communism has never succeeded, or rather its only success has been its consistency of failure, because the right people have never been in charge. Can’t we just give today’s social justice warriors a chance? It’ll be different this time.

    2. avatar JasonM says:

      Many of them believe in an autocratic public-private partnership, so they’re not communists, they’re fascists. I believe they’d find that term very offensive.

      For the ones who believe in the all-powerful, all-controlling state, call them tyrants, despots, or totalitarians. They’d find that insulting, because they believe their form of communism will somehow be liberating (unlike every attempt at communism ever). These are the type who call themselves anarcho-communists, as if anarchy and communism weren’t polar opposites.

    3. avatar Roymond says:

      No, they’re not (all) communists, and saying so makes you sound stupid. More are probably just hippy “can’t we all just get along” types who really believe in magic because they think people are basically good.

      1. avatar Big Bill says:

        I don’t think so, Roy.
        Hoplophobes do not think everyone is good. They specifically think gun owners (except those sanctioned by the state to protect us) are bad people, with uncontrolled urges to kill other people, and are thus not to be trusted with guns.
        That does not describe basically good people.
        It also completely escapes them that those people they think should be able to have guns are drawn from the general population, with (all too often) not enough effort to weed out those with less than honorable personalities.

        1. avatar Raoul Duke says:

          And terrible training that makes them at least on par if not worse than your average gun owner.

  2. avatar Red in CO says:

    You can certainly have more success than they did on the dark web, but frankly, that takes far more savvy than most people who would choose to purchase automatic weapons have. Setting up an Onion Router, while not all there difficult, still takes at least rudimentary computer skills (if you’re someone who has trouble effectively using Google, and plenty of morons do, TOR is a no go for you). Plus, unless you’re trying to set up a face to face, cash purchase (in which case, well, nobody is going to bite), all transactions are done with cryptocurrencies, typically Bitcoin.

    Again, not the hardest thing in the world to convert your chosen currency into Bitcoin, but takes a lot more effort to learn and manage than most people are willing to put in. Plus, while cryptocurrencies are still a new concept, plenty of organizations are working hard to legitimize them. My mother actually works for a major cryptocurrency exchange (it’s been fascinating to learn about the market from her, since my previous knowledge was only cursory), and they go to great lengths to verify the source of the money you’re attempting to use with their service.

    You’re simply not going to purchase blatantly illegal firearms on the open internet because everything there is recorded, and records are perfectly accurate and available at the touch of a button. And on the dark web, while it is possible, it means jumping through more hoops than most are willing to go through. Maybe if semi-automatic rifles were banned entirely, folks would go that route and just get the real thing. But otherwise? It’s a limited market, particularly since most owners of illegal full autos are gang bangers. And if you’re in a gang, you don’t go through all those hoops, you just go talk to your friendly neighborhood arms dealer for your automatics. Or you burglarize a cop car, that happens a to too

    1. avatar the phantom says:

      90% of the vendors offering guns ‘for sale’ on the so-called “Dark Web” are scammers…
      one of the biggest (used to be) a DW shop calling itself “The Armory”;
      run a !Google! search for those clowns…..
      there’s, also, quite a lot of negative reviews of them on “reddit” ;

      most of these scammers offer to sell guns to countries like the UK, Australia and some EU countries….that is: countries with very harsh and draconian gun laws where there is a huge demand for “illegal” guns both from crooks and from ordinary punters hoping to acquire a viable means of self-defence;
      which: pretty much “spells out” that these scammers are nothing more than bottom-feeding parasites of the lowest order who ‘prey’ on the justifiable concerns and fears of OTW decent, law-abiding citizens…..
      (run a !Google! on “reddit”/Dark-Web-shops for the case of a young English lady who was desperately trying to acquire a fire-arm to prevent being sexually assaulted by a gang of black Muslims who lived near her….. these bogus clowns “The Armory” sold her a small pistol for abt £500 which, of course, never arrived ….clearly demonstrating what a bunch of heartless, soul-less mongrels they actually are!)
      of course, these ratbags don’t bother with US customers that much b’cs, after all, it is a lot easier to acquire a fire-arm in the US than else-where…..
      b’cs of the heavy OPSEC on the DW, particularly the use of the near-impenetrable Tor browser and the use of encrypted communication(s) like, for instance, the TAILs op. sys, PGP and BitMessage, it is, pretty much, impossible for Law Enforcement to ‘nail’ people att. to buy guns on the DW…..also: when most DW users are pretty IT-savvy any-way(s)…… meaning that, for LE to ‘nail’ them, they must employ highly specialised cyber-security units and/or request the assistance of top-shelf (dot)gov orgs like, for instance, the NSA who may or may not agree to co-operate….. @ the end-of-the-day, how-ever, such resources are, usually, thin-on-the-ground….requiring highly specialised and expensive training or the ‘hiring’/”seconding” of expensive and scarce (dot)gov resources……

      how-ever, there have been cases of under-cover cops posing as DW gun vendors offering to ‘meet up’ with potential customers …..

      of course: any such potential purchaser would have to have a near room temperature IQ to agree to “meet up” for such a transaction…

      this usually occurs in countries other than the US….b’cs, again, its really not worth the while of LE running ‘sting’ operations in the US b’cs, again, let’s face it, it ain’t that hard to get hold of a gun and the penalties for possessing an ‘un-authorised’ gun are, in many jurisdictions, minimal…compared to, say, a country like AUstralia where the penalties for “illegally” possessing afore-said hunk of inert metal are almost mind-boggling….

      1. avatar Southern Cross says:

        In Australia there was a group who imported 70+ Glock pistols by having a fake security and training company set up and buying the guns from European dealers using money transfers. The dealers were told that local import laws required the guns to arrive disassembled and in separate packages. The guns were sent to post office agency (basically a general store who can provide some post office services as well) who was an accomplice in group.

        It came undone when one of the guns was discovered in a car stopped by the police with mismatched frame, barrel, and slide. The police contacted Glock who told them the dealer who was sent the guns. The dealer by this time as getting suspicious and contacted the Austrian authorities. A final package was allowed to be sent but was intercepted with a bug and tracer added to parcel. The package was delivered to the post office agency but the agency owner was suspicious because the delivery driver (disguised police officer) was not the regular driver. Eventually after much discussion, all overheard by the police, the package was opened and the police swooped for the arrests.

        But this is one group out of many who are known to have imported guns this way. Estimates are at least several thousand handguns have been imported by these methods. With THREE out of every hundred sea containers actually inspected the risks are low and rewards high. Most discoveries are via tip offs.

        1. avatar Nanashi says:

          In other words, the group you talk about only got caught because they were too stupid to get rid of the serial numbers to break the paper trail? Seriously, I know criminals are stupid but who doesn’t know serial numbers are traceable? I can understand not bothering if you stole the guns, but after faking a legit purchase? That’s stupid even for someone without the skills to get a real job.

        2. avatar Upchuck.Liberals says:

          @Nanashi No they were too stupid to match the frames and slides. Get caught with a unserialized hand gun and it’s a dead giveaway, unless you did it out of a 80%.

        3. avatar Roymond says:

          It’s essentially impossible to remove a serial number: even filed off a millimeter lower than the numbers were cut, the imprinting process changes the structure of the metal enough that a proper scanner can still read the number.

        4. avatar the phantom says:

          In Australia there was a group who imported 70+ Glock pistols by having a fake security and training company set up and buying the guns from European dealers using money transfers

          a few other interesting little “tit-bits” on that story:
          the main importer was a technician employed by Optus Australia;
          he had previously applied for and been granted a dealer’s license;
          the d/lc was, how-ever, revoked after he began importing more fire-arms than he was licensed to;
          he then ‘bodgied’ up the Customs certificate and used that in his new operation of illegal importation;
          the ‘bodgied up’ docs were so good that they fooled AU Customs and Border Security;
          using these phony docs, he imported dozens of Glocks over a n° of years;
          the whole ‘plot’ came unstuck when a friend of his and his missus were loudly arguing in their car out-side a block of Sydney flats late one night;
          a tenant in the flats came out and remonstrated with the couple whereupon the man unleashed a shot from a Glock 19/’baby’ Glock in the tenant’s general direction….the shot lodging in the outer façade of the block of flats;
          the couple then fled the scene but were intercepted a short time later by NSW-pol;
          the Glock was discovered on the floor of the car near the driver’s seat;
          the whole saga un-ravelled from thereon in……
          UN-believable……
          as they say: you simply couldn’t make that up!
          it would be safe to say that he would, probably, still, be importing Glocks by the gross if not for this one, stoopid incident….
          which, of course, demonstrates that the cops ‘came across’ it all by sheer happen-stance and that, no doubt, others even more resourceful could well be importing container loads of ‘illegal’ roscoes……a much safer way to do it than trying to buy off a bunch of low-life Dark Web scammers/under-cover coppers…..

        5. avatar Southern Cross says:

          Phantom, thanks for filling in the gaps. I told the story based purely on memory from the 4-corners episode.

  3. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute: is this yet another example of a gun-grabber claim that is demonstrably false? Does this mean that gun-grabbers willingly lie to advance their agenda?

    The next time a gun-grabber says that they have no intention of directing government to take away our firearms, ask them why we should believe them now.

  4. avatar Chris says:

    The GAO are good people, they answer to nobody and can’t be defunded or fired. Most of the dark web (.onion sites) that deal in firearms are honeypots or scams to run off with your bitcoins. I’m surprised they were successful at all, in that regard. Kinda old news, actually.

    1. avatar DaveL says:

      It’s not just the dark web. I noticed that the quoted piece left 11 attempts on the Surface Web unaccounted for, so I clicked though the link and found out: those 11 were all scams. Agents detected 9 of the scams before money changed hands, the other 2 times they got suckered.

  5. avatar Joe R. says:

    The best source to “Buy an Illegal Gun Online” is your government. It’s called a ‘sting’, and, from the looks of the ATF&E weekly updates from the ATF GovDelivery subscription page https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USATF/subscriber/new?. That’s what they do when they’re not piggy-backing other Federal Agencies’ ‘stings’.

    Foreign nationals / illegal aliens must get a discount or something, because I can’t afford any of the illegal guns I find for purchase on the internet, and aliens typically go Tony-Montana-Strapped.

  6. avatar binder says:

    I bet most of the guns used by gangs (that in turn account for most of the murders) are straw purchases using either other members, domestic spouses, close friends or family members with clean records. There is no way they are ever going to stop this, so you will never see it reported.

    1. avatar JasonM says:

      A study by Duke University and the University of Chicago supports your claim.
      Most criminals get their guns from people they know.

      1. avatar Ing says:

        And since there is no way to know beforehand who these straw buyers are, nobody should be allowed to buy a gun without mandatory registration and monthly check-ins with police. Or better yet, mandatory off-site storage with limited-time checkout verified by photo ID. Or better yet, nobody buys guns. Except the government. (What could possibly go wrong?)

      2. avatar Roymond says:

        I met a guy who was given money by someone who could legally have a gun to purchase one for him. The gun was bought, turned over, then only days later was reported stolen; as a recent purchase it was fully covered so the guy got his money back.

        It turned up later in a “buy back”. My guess is the whole thing was a setup to get some gang bozo a cheap (free) gun.

  7. avatar jwm says:

    So, in addition to banning guns they’re going to want to ban that whole internet thingy.

  8. avatar Ansel Hazen says:

    I live in a NE state that allows me to sell or buy face to face private sale. Being close to several other states that are incredibly restrictive I have reported suspicious posts to Armslist when I see content that includes offering to meet a potential buyer at bus stations.

  9. avatar Mark N. says:

    I only recall one successful sale, where the ale was interstate and the buyer used the gun to kill his girlfriend. The idiot seller was completely oblivious to the illegality of the transaction. It may have been an Armslist deal, but it was a couple of years ago, so I can’t be sure. The murderer went to jail (of course) and the seller got sued by the family of the GF.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      He should have killed her in Chicago. Her murder would have still been unsolved.

  10. avatar Southern Cross says:

    Of those two “successful” Dark Web atrempts, did they actually receive the guns? Even once the transaction has completed, the goods still have sent via various postal and/or courier services. Some may simply refuse to transit the items. Others may alert local authorities about the suspicious parcels.

    1. avatar the phantom says:

      i’d say “NO

      when they said “successful”, they may just have meant that they “successfully” purchased them using BTC etc…..
      whether the guns actually arrived is a whole ‘nother matter entirely……
      there be many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip and there be many a slip between buying some-thing on the DW and actually receiving it……
      for low-value items like, say, for instance, a few doz. pills and/or a bodgie credit card or some such….OK….yeh!….you may well get it….. b’cs most DW vendors rely on a ‘points review’ system so that too many neg. reviews and yr outta bizz…..
      how-ever…since guns are a hi-value item, you only gotta ‘sell’ a doz or so @ inflated prices and you’ve already made a ‘killing’, as it were…
      then…you can ‘bail’ and start out again under another nom-de-plume……
      of course: even if the gun ‘vendor’ was 100% genuine (a highly un-likely scenario to begin with [!] )…..you would still hafta ‘negotiate’ the Customs and mail service of any particular country which could very well bring the whole enterprise un-done…… all in all: too many variables and too many risks to bother with it…..
      for crooks who want guns…the old-fashioned way is still the most reliable….either purchase afore-said fire-arm ‘on-the-black’ or steal it…..
      for law-abiding citz: either go through the onerous requirements of getting a fire-arm license (non-US countries) or emigrate….. not a lot of other options !

  11. avatar DrewR says:

    It is now incumbent upon us to rub the antis noses in this study every single time they make this claim.

  12. avatar Jim Bullock says:

    “In the quest for increased regulations on firearms, one common refrain from gun control activists is…”

    Bang on. Sentence first. Trial after.

  13. avatar BLAMMO says:

    Didn’t Obama say something to the effect that buying a gun online is as easy as buying a book on Amazon?

    That’s not true?

    1. avatar Big Bill says:

      “We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.”
      –President Obama, remarks at memorial service in Dallas, July 12, 2016

  14. avatar little horn says:

    this is just something else they will use as reason to enact restrictions on internet access. this country is about to really go down the tubes. surely to god people won’t re-elect trump. he doesn’t give a shit about or know what is in the Constitution. All he cares about is corporate-benefiting legislature.

  15. avatar Jonathan-Houston says:

    A sting run on Armslist probably isn’t representative of Internet gun transactions. Many of the sellers there are FFLs, who are already legitimate businesspeople with many transactions to their name. Moreover, even the private individual sellers are more apt to be legitimate than sellers in general, because they have a regular presence on the site as buyers or browsers, if not as occasional sellere from their personal collections.

    The entire site owes its viability to keeping a clean shop going, too. This accounts for several accounts of GAO being frozen. Its in the website’s interest to shoo away bad actors who could get the place sued or shut down.

    I’d be more interested in a study that targeted a site not specifically devoted to firearms, but rather one that just offers individuals an opportunity to come together over whatever merchandise. Craigslist or something similar might be s contender

    1. avatar Raoul Duke says:

      Craigslist specifically bans selling guns on their website hence why Armslist was made.

      Your first statements sound more like GunBroker or GunsAmerica that have lots of FFL’s and better monitoring of who buys what on them.

    2. avatar the phantom says:

      the “Craigslist” restrictions are easily got around by using ‘codes’…..
      for those ‘in-the-know’, that is…..
      one of the most common codes is “420” for the sale of marijuana….. check it out!
      many of the “420” sellers also sell guns…..but…..like the DW…. a lot of them are scammers…..they’re gunna make more outta ‘selling’ a gun for, say, $a coupla grand$ than selling kilos of ‘weed’……

  16. avatar GeorgiaBob says:

    The anti-gunners are getting a bit frantic and we can expect even more extreme distortions, and fantastical claims based upon half truths and inventive propaganda. One option for the Bloomberg propaganda machine is to blatantly and repeatedly claim that “anyone” can buy a firearm online and “prove” it by purchasing several muzzleloaders and cap and ball revolvers. Since there are bolt action muzzleloaders with plastic stocks and scopes, the Mothers Against the Constitution (or whatever name Bloomberg is using today) could present pictures of “modern rifles” and “deadly” Colt .44 revolvers as proof of their claims. (without even telling a Big lie – you can buy online modern muzzle load rifles, and replica Colt cap and ball revolvers, and both are just as effective as any other non-cartridge firearm)

    I am not opposed to online or mail order purchases (I purchased 5 ML firearms on-line just last year) and do not want any new “rules” to impair my ability to buy muzzleloaders, black powder and accessories over the internet. I point this “loophole” out (on this forum only) simply because we all know that billionaires Bloomberg, Soros, Bezos, and others do not care about either the Constitution or the truth. They will distort anything to get their way, and have responded to losing in November 2016 by pushing more money and more falsehoods through their pet causes! Be Prepared!!!!

  17. avatar raptor jesus says:

    “Unless you’re skilled enough to find your way onto the dark web . . . ”

    You mean download and install Tor? So basically a 5th grade level of computer proficiency.

  18. avatar ozzallos says:

    The only thing I saw was the picture and said, “lol, armslist.”
    If I want to be scammed, that’s where I would go, too.

    1. avatar Raoul Duke says:

      Well in its defense if you are sending money or a gun sight unseen on there then yea you are getting scammed.

      The only way to use Armslist right is only for in person meetups. At least then you can verify and protect yourself from being scammed.

  19. avatar Paco says:

    Lost me at “Government study”.

    1. avatar Shallnot BeInfringed says:

      Them you’re extremely easy to lose… this government study is a good thing. Maybe you should read it, rather than remaining ignorant.

  20. avatar Gunr says:

    Learn to become a machinist, buy yourself a milling machine, a lath, some tooling, and build your own!

  21. avatar Navillus says:

    This GAO “study” proves diddly squat & the following quote tells why-
    “Specifically, private sellers on Surface Web gun forums and in classified ads were unwilling to sell a firearm to our agents that SELF-IDENTIFIED AS BEING PROHIBITED from possessing a firearm.” [emphasis added]
    It’s like saying our under-age drinking laws work great because the liquor store clerk refused to sell you booze after you told him you were only 17. WTF?
    What a waste of time & money.
    It would be far more valuable to know how easy it is to buy a gun by meeting a non-FFL Armslist.com seller in person & pay him cash without volunteering *any* information to the seller. Is this common? Rare? Does anybody know?

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