Social Policy & Politics Program | Report

What a Difference a Law Makes: Online Gun Sales in States With and Without Background Checks

by Third Way and Americans for Responsible Solutions

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It is estimated that today there are about 4,000 websites dedicated to facilitating gun sales between private individuals. One of the largest of these sites—Armslist.com—essentially serves as an eHarmony or Craigslist for gun sales, connecting gun buyers and sellers in each of the 50 states. Buyers can search for-sale listings or want ads within their state or city, locate unlicensed sellers or buyers, and arrange to meet up in person to purchase guns. As long as the gun doesn’t cross state lines or travel through the U.S. Postal System, 34 states allow these sales between strangers to take place unregulated and without criminal background checks. By contrast, 16 states require background checks for gun sales between private, unlicensed individuals like the stranger-to-stranger sales promoted on Armslist.com.

In this study, we sought to determine if these laws make a difference. In particular, are there fewer online sales in states that require background checks compared to states that don’t?

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