In Latest Gun Inquiry, City Finds Willing Sellers Online

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has dispatched private investigators to gun stores and gun shows as far away as Georgia and Arizona to prove that some firearm dealers are willing to sell guns to people they believe are disqualified from owning them.

Now the mayor has turned his attention to the online marketplace: in a sting operation, the city hired private investigators to purchase guns from sellers they found online. In many instances, the sales went forward even though the investigators told the online sellers they were unable to pass a background check or were minors, Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference on Wednesday.

While private gun owners can generally sell their weapons without doing any background check on the buyer, they are forbidden by federal law from going forward with the sales if they have a good reason to believe the buyer is disqualified from owning guns. Cause for disqualification include felony convictions or failure to meet age requirements.

The investigators hired by the city found guns for purchase on Craigslist and other Web sites devoted to firearms like Gunlistings.org and Armslist.com.

In all, investigators working for the city purchased 10 firearms in face-to-face transactions that began after a seller was located online, city officials said, adding that they could have purchased many more if they had continued the inquiry. In all, the investigators contacted 125 sellers in the last month, and in more than 60 percent of the cases, the sellers were willing to go through with the deal even after the investigator explained that he would most likely fail a background check, city officials said.

In transcripts of the phone calls released by city officials, the undercover investigators were repeatedly informed by the sellers that there would not be any background check. The investigators often responded that they were pleased because “I probably couldn’t pass one.”

In at least one instance, a seller replied, “Yeah, I probably couldn’t either.”

One seller explained to one undercover investigator, “Just between you and me, there’s a lot of people that buy guns that way that probably can’t walk into a gun store and do it, but person-to-person private sales — you just sell the gun.”

In nearly 50 instances, the private sellers refused to complete the sale after the investigators admitted they could not pass a background check.

“Because you just told me that, though, I can’t sell it to you,” one seller said, according to city officials. “Because if you just told me that you can’t pass, it would be a felony for me to sell it to you, so thanks, have a good day.”

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