The founder of America’s largest peer-to-peer firearm sales website – known as the “Craigslist for guns” – has said that Barack Obama’s executive actions on gun control are “well-meaning but ultimately ineffective”.
Jonathan Gibbon, the founder of Armslist.com , said in a statement to the Guardian that “many, if not most, private sellers want to do background checks”, but that the current system forces them to physically go to a licensed dealer and pay a fee to do the check. Gibbon said that he wanted to make NICS (the criminal record database) information more available to private citizens in order to “shed light on those who seek to operate under the cover of darkness”.
“Further scrutiny of law-abiding people will not stop criminals,” he added.
Armslist was founded in 2007 by Gibbon and Brian Mancini, both US air force veterans, after Craigslist banned all posts related to guns.
The site currently lists more than 60,000 firearms, gun paraphernalia, scopes, silencers and boxes of ammunition for sale, ranging from military-spec assault rifles to antique muzzle-loaded black-powder guns.
Part of Obama’s executive order , phrased as a clarification, states that “it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business – from a store, at gun shows, or over the internet: if you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks”.
It goes on to say that “there is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement”, and that “courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place, when other factors also were present”.
For vendors on Armslist, however, this admittedly indistinct clarification appears to have made little immediate impact.
One vendor, Jim, who declined to give his last name but said that he was the manager of a licensed firearm dealer in St Louis, Missouri, said that the background checks system currently in place, whereby private sellers can choose to involve a licensed dealer as a third party for a fee, already protected sellers from legal liability.
“If he sells a gun to a felon and something happens, the guy that sold it is gonna be in trouble,” he told the Guardian. But there is currently no requirement for all private sales to go through a licensed dealer.
“If I was selling it to my uncle, I’d be OK with not doing a transfer,” Jim said. “But if I’m selling to somebody I don’t know [if I would be OK with that].”
Responses from other vendors contacted by the Guardian varied. One vendor, asked if he required a background check to sell his Sig Sauer assault rifle in his state of Kansas, replied simply: “Sure don’t.” Asked if he would personally ask for a background check, he replied: “Nope.”
But most claimed that they would require the firearms they had for sale to be transferred via a dealer who had a Federal Firearm License (FFL), and therefore a background check.
One vendor, who was selling an AR-15 assault rifle, told the Guardian that in his home state of Oregon the issue was null, because the state already requires a background check for all firearms sold. Eighteen states, including Oregon, have enacted varying levels of mandatory background checks.
Patrick, a user who posted an advertisement seeking a .45 caliber Beretta Storm rifle, said that he would prefer to buy from someone within his state – Kansas – in order to avoid the rigmarole associated with moving weapons across state lines.
He would not have to take a background check if he found a private seller who would sell to him from within Kansas, Patrick (who requested that his last name be withheld) told the Guardian.
He said that personally he was “in the middle” on the issue of universal background checks. Organisations that pose as private sellers, like those that set up booths at gun sales and sell in bulk, ought to be forced to do them because they are operating as commercial firearm sellers, he added.
But he balked at forcing individuals to go through the process of checking the backgrounds of those they choose to sell their weaponry to, preferring a “bill of sale” – essentially, an honor system.
“In good faith, I would have to ask the buyer to disclose that he or she is not legally prohibited from owning or buying a firearm, that they are of legal age – which I could verify through observation – that they’re not violating any state local or federal laws, that they haven’t been convicted in any court of a crime, that they’re not a fugitive,” he said.
Another user, who was selling an AK-47 rifle, said he did not personally require background checks at this point. “As long as Obama doesn’t get his way!” he added.