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Oregon’s vast online gun market

Where Oregon’s criminals shop for guns,
no background checks required

In Oregon, domestic abusers and meth users are evading
background checks and buying guns online in plain sight

On Friday, November 21, 2014, a 27-year-old man in Portland responded to an online listing for a .45 caliber handgun, one of hundreds posted on the website Armslist.com that day. The man was prohibited from possessing firearms, having been convicted of felony burglaries in 2005 and 2007, but that didn’t stop him from shopping in this online market. By the end of the month he had obtained a Taurus handgun and just weeks later, he would be arrested for attempting to rob a Portland-area business at gunpoint — police recovered a Taurus handgun from him at the scene.

Federal law requires brick-and-mortar gun stores to run background checks on potential buyers and bars domestic abusers and criminals like this man from buying firearms. There is abundant evidence that this stops gun sales to dangerous people. But in Oregon, a gaping loophole in the law makes it easy for people like the Portland man to buy guns from unlicensed sellers who are not required to run background checks. As a result, there was nothing to stop this dangerous criminal from getting a gun from a stranger he met online, no questions asked.

Illegal gun sales like these contribute to crime and violence perpetrated on Oregon citizens, as well as residents of nearby states. But until this investigation, no one knew how big this loophole was, or how many criminals in Oregon were taking advantage of it to arm themselves online.

The findings are deeply troubling:

  • An estimated 25,000 unlicensed guns are posted for sale each year on just a handful of Oregon websites. This dwarfs the number of unlicensed sales conducted at gun shows, which have been subject to background checks in Oregon since 2000. Unlicensed sellers in the state post more gun ads online each week than they sell at gun shows in a full year.
  • Of the people seeking guns in unlicensed, online sales, 1 in 18 are barred from owning guns by state or federal law.
  • At this rate, unlicensed sellers in these markets would transfer
    1,360 guns to criminals each year.
  • Criminals are flocking to this marketplace to evade background checks. The share of criminals seeking guns in unlicensed online sales is nearly 4 times higher than the share seeking guns at licensed dealers.
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The Investigation

To characterize the group of Oregonians buying guns in unlicensed online sales, Everytown contracted private investigators to post online ads for firearms. Using contact information voluntarily provided by respondents to those ads, Everytown searched court records for previous criminal convictions and civil orders issued against them.

In real-time, investigators watched meth users seek to evade the background check system and buy guns. Unfortunately, this is hardly surprising, given that the Oregon Department of Justice has documented numerous connections between the state’s illegal drug markets and unlawful firearm possession and crime. Numerous domestic abusers were also shopping for guns online, which is particularly concerning because the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation, the woman is five times more likely to be murdered.

Would-be gun buyers identified in the investigation include the following:

Thousands of guns, no background checks required

It's clear that criminals in Oregon are arming themselves through this loophole. To estimate the volume of unlicensed gun sales taking place online in the state, Everytown extracted data on gun ads publicly posted on four major Oregon classified websites where strangers connect and arrange offline gun transfers.

During a seven-month period, unlicensed sellers in Oregon posted 14,916 gun ads, a rate of more than 25,000 gun ads per year. This dwarfs the number of unlicensed sales conducted at gun shows, which have been subject to background checks in Oregon since 2000. Unlicensed sellers in the state post more gun ads online each week than they sell at gun shows in a full year.

SELECT YOUR COUNTY:

Background checks save lives

Expanding and strengthening the background check system is the single most effective way to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Seventeen states have passed legislation to go beyond federal law to ensure that would-be gun buyers undergo a background check whether they are buying a gun from an unlicensed seller or a brick-and-mortar dealer. And the legislation saves lives. In states that have adopted these requirements, there are:

There is a bill in the Oregon legislature this year that would require a criminal background check for every gun sale in Oregon, with reasonable exceptions for family transfers, hunting, and self-defense. SB 941 would expand the existing system to make sure that everyone buying a gun in Oregon passes a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter who sells it to them.

Background checks have widespread support from Oregon voters and residents. Eight out of 10 Oregon residents support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales. It’s the single most effective way to stop the flow of guns into the hands of dangerous people, and it’s a law that would make all Oregon residents safer.

Background checks make a difference. The Oregon legislature can reduce crime and save lives by passing SB 941.

Tell Oregon's lawmakers: Vote YES on SB 941

Oregon legislators recently introduced a life-saving background check bill (SB 941) to close the dangerous loophole that gives criminals and other dangerous people easy access to buy guns -- and key lawmakers will be voting on this legislation soon.

Make sure your lawmakers have the facts about online gun sales in Oregon now by sending them this report -- before they vote.

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