ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Orlando attacks once again have the country talking about background checks on gun purchases. In most states, there is a perfectly legal way to purchase a weapon without ever having to pass a background check - through a private sale between two people, not a gun dealer. That's often facilitated by a website. NPR's Tasneem Raja has been looking into one of the largest websites that facilitates these types of sales. Welcome.
TASNEEM RAJA, BYLINE: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: So the site is called armslist.com. Tell me about it.
RAJA: A lot of people call it the Craigslist for guns. It's an online marketplace where anybody can post a gun wanted listing or a I-have-a-gun-for-sale ad. And then they can arrange to meet wherever they choose to hand over the gun.
SHAPIRO: And do we have any idea the scale of sales and purchases on this and other websites?
RAJA: There's really no way of knowing. Gun sales are tracked through background checks. And it's perfectly legal, as you said, to sell a gun through Armslist without running a background check.
If you are a private person and you want to sell to another private buyer, you're free to just make that sale without ever going to a gun shop or a federally-licensed dealer. So there's really no way of recording sales that happen between people who meet on Armslist because you don't have to run a background check.
SHAPIRO: Why don't you?
RAJA: Under federal law gun dealers - or really anybody who's engaged in the business, as they say, of selling firearms has to run a background check and files some other paperwork to transfer a gun. But private sellers don't have that requirement. Private sellers can't sell to someone that they know or even suspect wouldn't pass a background check. But they don't have to verify it either way.
And it's worth noting that some states and cities have their own requirements for selling some types of firearms in some cases. But there's no way of knowing whether people who list ads on Armslist are following those laws or not.
SHAPIRO: What about efforts to expand background checks and require buyers and sellers on sites like Armslist to do the same kind of background check you would need if you're buying a gun from a gun shop?
RAJA: There have been attempts to expand the way that background checks work at gun shows and between private sellers, but so far none of those have been successful.
SHAPIRO: If I want to sell or buy a weapon on a website like Armslist, how much do they need to know about who I am?
RAJA: Absolutely nothing.
SHAPIRO: Nothing at all?
RAJA: You don't have to give your real name. You don't have to say where you live. You just need a working email address and anybody can look at the listings, contact sellers or buyers and arrange to meet or arrange to - you know, arrange a shipment of a gun without Armslist getting involved. And it's perfectly legal.
SHAPIRO: You reached out to Armslist. What did they say?
RAJA: Armslist didn't respond for comment to my story. But in January they put out a statement saying that most private gun sellers do want to run background checks. And they said it can be cumbersome or expensive to go to a gun shop or another federally-licensed dealer to run a background check on somebody you want to sell a gun to. Fees for background checks tend to be anywhere from 25 to $40.
They also recommended that background checks be made available to anybody so that private citizens can run background checks on private buyers. I spoke to someone at the ATF about this, and he said that idea brings up a whole host of other privacy and security issues.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Tasneem Raja, thanks a lot.
RAJA: Thank you so much.
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