WaPo Misleads on Online Gun Sales (Update: More Guns, Less Crime in Virginia)

Philip Rucker leads the Post today with a story about a study that claims there is a “vast” gun market thriving online that allows gun buyers to evade the background check system. Rucker’s story is full of misleading statements.


The marketplace for firearms on the Internet, where buyers are not required to undergo background checks, is so vast that advocates for stricter regulations now consider online sales a greater threat than the gun show loophole.

Misleading statement #1: Buyers are only not required to undergo background checks if they’re not buying from a licensed firearms dealer. If you buy online from a licensed dealer, you still have to undergo a background check.

Misleading statement #2: Advocates for stricter regulations are always looking for a new angle from which to chip away at the Second Amendment. They author studies that support their point of view, then act shocked! and demand more regulations. That’s how gun-control advocacy works.

A new study by Third Way , a centrist think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, found that thousands of guns, including so-called assault weapons, are for sale online and that many prospective buyers were shopping online specifically to avoid background checks.

Misleading statement #3: If the group has “close ties to the Obama administration,” it is not “centrist.”

Misleading statement #4: On the question of buyers shopping online to avoid background checks, that’s probably true, but there are many reasons that buyers may want to avoid the background check system besides the obvious one — their being convicted felons or others barred from buying guns. Recent scandals involving how the government uses and misuses personal data highlight just one of those reasons.


The study focused on Armslist.com — a popular classified site similar to Craigslist.org that facilitates private sales of firearms and ammunition based on location — and analyzed listings in 10 states where senators voted against a background checks compromise this spring.

At any given time, more than 15,000 guns were for sale in those states, according to the study, and more than 5,000 of them were semi-automatic weapons. Nearly 2,000 ads were from prospective buyers asking to buy specifically from private sellers, where no background checks are required.

Why break out “semi-automatic weapons” from others? Because in many minds on the left, semi-automatic weapons are somehow more powerful than non-semi-autos. They’re not, of course.

Background checks — designed to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, domestic violence perpetrators or the severely mentally ill — are mandatory for gun sales at retail stores, but not at gun shows or for private sales, such as between neighbors and family members.

Misleading statement #5: Background checks are still mandatory for licensed gun dealers, even at gun shows. They’re not mandatory for private sellers at gun shows or anywhere else unless state law requires them. The media consistently misstate the “gun show loophole” to make gun shows sound like they’re a cross between open air drug markets and the hive of scum and villainy at Mos Eisley. The truth is, gun shows tend to be family affairs monitored closely by police officers on site.


The National Rifle Association and other gun rights supporters have advocated against expanding the background check system because they believe doing so will not stop society’s most dangerous people from procuring weapons and eventually will lead to even stricter gun regulations, including a federal registry.

That’s actually not misleading, but there’s an additional reason to resist imposing background checks on all online sales. Doing so would require monitoring of online activity worthy of the NSA. As that’s what gun control advocates want, they should be open about the consequences of making their wishes become law.

But gun-control advocates have long prioritized closing the gun show loophole, believing that is where people seeking to avoid background checks buy their firearms. Hatalsky noted that 17 states have closed the gun show loophole in their states, and that law enforcement officers have become savvy about scouring gun shows for people evading the law.

But online, she said, “nobody’s monitoring this. Nobody has any ability to stop these people who are looking for private sellers — and the only reason to do that is to evade the background check system.”

No, it’s not “the only reason.” Private sellers can be cheaper, and they may have firearms for sale that are not typically on the market at licensed dealers — antiques, rare and specialty firearms, and so forth.


The most misleading part of Rucker’s story is that he presents the Third Way study as anything other than engaging in advocacy for a gun-control position that gun-control groups have long held. The study did not lead them to this advocacy. Their advocacy led them to commission this study, seeking to “prove” their previously held point of view. That’s how gun control — and much other political advocacy — works.

Update: Gun control advocates should explain why they want more violent crime on America’s streets.

Update: The Post’s Philip Rucker describes Third Way as “centrist.” Rucker failed to read Bernard L. Schwartz’s biography on Third Way’s site.

In addition, Mr. Schwartz is a Director of the New America Foundation, where he sponsors several fellows, and a Trustee of Third Way, a progressive advocacy organization.

Progressive =/= centrist.



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