How Many Handguns Are Available Online? At Least 13,000

A TIME analysis of every ad on ArmsList.com the day after the Washington Navy Yard shooting

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Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis originally attempted to purchase an assault rifle from a Virginia gun shop, the New York Times reported Tuesday, but had to settle for a pump-action shotgun because state law prohibited the sale of the military-style AR-15 to an out-of-state buyer, even though Alexis passed a background check.

Had Alexis instead gone online, he would have easily found about 200 such weapons for sale by private sellers, most within an hour’s drive of D.C., according to a TIME analysis of postings on ArmsList.com, the most popular site for prospective gun buyers and sellers to connect.

Though federal law typically limits private gun sales to in-state buyers, gun-control advocates like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg charge that the site enables illegal gun sales by giving ineligible buyers access to unscrupulous sellers. A December 2011 report by Bloomberg’s office found that 54 percent of ArmsList sellers were willing to sell to a person who admitted he probably would not pass a background check.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence recently sued the site—unsuccessfully—on behalf of a 36-year-old Illinois woman who was murdered by a man who obtained his gun illegally using the site.

Today, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released the results of an investigation of prospective buyers on Armslist.com. Instead of using private investigators posing as buyers, as the December 2011 report did, the group conducted its investigation by mining the phone numbers listed in wanted ads on the site. Researchers were able to positively connect 607 of those phone numbers to individuals. Background checks revealed that 1 in 30 of them had a criminal record that would have caused them to flunk the background check.

And wanted ads, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted in a press conference announcing the report, are only a small fraction of the site’s content.

“Think how many criminals are answering ‘want to sell ads,’ which they can do with complete anonymity,” he said.

To put the size of ArmsList.com in perspective, TIME downloaded all 98,537 posts that were active on the site on Tuesday, September 17. After removing all ads that appeared to be duplicates posted in different locations, the analysis found 15,729 rifles, 13,712 handguns, and 7,035 shotguns for sale in the United States just from private sellers. (About 5 percent of ads on ArmsList are posted by dealers). Here, you can see those figures broken out by state:

Methodology

ArmsList.com was mirrored between 10:00 AM EST and 6:00 PM EST on Tuesday, September 17. Posts were collated by unique seller using the site’s “Listings by this user” feature. To reduce double-counting of the same gun, which occurs most often when a person advertises the same firearm in multiple locations, only one gun per user of a given price was considered in the database. This means a person selling the same gun for two different prices in two different locations would still be counted twice, but that a person selling two guns for the same price would be undercounted. Both scenarios appear to be rare.

14 comments
DennisHeaton
DennisHeaton

Hey Time, can do you an article on how many garden tillers are available for sale in each state?  I'm looking for a good used one.  

So many of Time's stories lately are of a "so, what's the point?" variety.  Why no in depth investigating of where tax money goes, or is that too hard since the government doesn't just hand-feed you the numbers like they do on most stories?  Or you can just do another Miley Cyrus story....

AllanNKimHarrison
AllanNKimHarrison

"How Many Handguns Are Available Online? At Least 13,000"

Run and hide hoplophobes!


TylerCruse
TylerCruse

"The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence recently sued the site—unsuccessfully" - This line says it all.  Brady Center has no case.  Since the "loop hole" (gag gag!) only exists in places where face to face sales are permitted and the seller can determine the level of background information necessary.  So, I admit that it is possible that someone could "look OK" and pull the wool over some private seller (now a private seller can not make a business of selling guns).  Now, the law is still violated when a "restricted" person buys the gun, so there is no way that the law is not broken.  The "street price" from their local crime partners is much lower than any individual or $0 if they just steal it.  Also, there are lots and lots of these ads placed by ATF as sting operations.  So, there is no reason to be concerned, just another case where the "progressive" desire to have government in control does not let the truth get in the way with what they say.

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

no state has less guns available than nj in any of the categories. pretty proud of my state. 

Evo1
Evo1

And with all this they weren't able to show one single example of any gun ever being purchased illegally this way. All they could do was produce some conjecture that it *could* happen. But even if you passed an "universal background check" law, it could still happen just as easily. There's no way to enforce that law anymore than there is to enforce laws like not selling to someone from out of state. And according to the US DOJ, this isn't a major source of crime guns anyway. Most crime guns are purchased through straw buys from federally licensed dealers at brick-and-mortar gun shops. So this is all just another bunch of speculative BS hand waving that doesn't prove anything except that Bloomberg is desperate for attention.

chacalcdn
chacalcdn

AR 15 NOT an assault rifle ? now I am relieved, LOL.


amazed108
amazed108

I actually thought this may be a legitimate fact based story until I saw that it was done by Time.

Superbarnie
Superbarnie

Time... I used to think you were a reputable news source. First, you wrote that 600round magazines are available and now this? It has already been confirmed that Alexis used a Remington 870 pump action shotgun with 00buck ammo, and he never attempted to buy an AR15. Regardless, a semi automatic AR15 is NOT an "assault rifle". "Assualt rifles" have been severely regulated ever since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

senojbr
senojbr

OMG... imagine in a free  nation of 330 million people where people have the constitutional right to own maybe 300 million firearms that there are actually 13 thousand guns for sale online.  OMG OMG  The Horror. 

GlennFromSac
GlennFromSac

How many guns for sale on-line in My state of California. NOT ENOUGH!!!!!
How many people on SSRI drugs TOO MANY!!!

brian0918
brian0918

Except this is entirely false. There is no such law. Virginia allows out-of-state purchases of long guns, just not handguns, as is the law everywhere else in the country.

Nor did Alexis attempt to purchase an AR-15. Nor did he even use an AR-15. The only AR-15 that was used in this incident was by the police officer who killed Alexis. Thank you, military-style assault weapon!

bugmenotbugmenot
bugmenotbugmenot

You as well, Time?  The NY Times story has been debunked. Hell look for yourself. Go to the Virginia State Police site and look at the firearm transfer regs.  There is no such law preventing interstate sales of these guns. Also, the owner of the gun store released a statement saying he did not try to buy an AR15

CarolWright
CarolWright

@Evo1 you may not prevent all, but as the shooter discovered, he was not able to get the high powered gun he really wanted. You may not be able to prevent ALL transactions, but if these transactions are illegal...and the perpetrators are actually arrested, fined and held responsible for any injuries caused by said illegal weapons...then we are removing the illegal sellers from running loose and creating danger for the REST OF US. The possibility of arrest and fines is a nice motivator to do things by the book.

I want laws that protect me from all these weapons and the people who own them. They may be law abiding and responsible to a point, but stuff happens. They get disappointed in love or lose their job, then too bad for us, they have a gun to blow off steam or get revenge. Or it is left out and some child murders their sibling or parent, as I just read about. And new study just came out with result something like this...More guns = more gun deaths, no less. not more safety. LESS safety. Why are we not surprised.

TylerCruse
TylerCruse

@CarolWright @Evo1 - CarolWright - you want laws to protect you, on the surface that seems extremely reasonable and just "common sense".  However, it is not!.  Since the police (government) have no duty or responsibility to protect you, who do you think will take that responsibility?  I know of only one answer, and that is you are on your own to provide protection.  So, the Bill of Rights, gives you the option of choosing a gun to assist in your protection by preventing the government from infringing.  If you choose other tools that is fine, but you should know that your safety is greatly enghanced by good people carring/owning guns so the criminals are not sure who can fight back. 

Also, note that the shotgun that he used is MUCH MORE POWERFUL than an AR-15, so invetigate first before you post such wrong statements.

The study that you mention is a joke, any high school student would not believe the "assumptions" that were made and the "gross procedural errors".  If you want a study that was done somewhat correctly by the anti-gun group CDC that was ordered by "gun grabber" Obama.  At least they kept their conclusions somewhat close to the facts.  And yes, one of their conclusions was the citizens owning guns prevent violent crime many more times that is used to cause harm.