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Online gun sales take off

Reese Magnant (L) is helped by Jonathan Schwartz , a salesman at the National Armory gun store, as he looks to buy a National Armory AR-15 Battle Entry Assault Rifle on January 16, 2013 in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Say I wanted to buy a Smith & Wesson M&P. That, according to Patrick Shearer, is "a small 9mm pistol. It's a low-capacity, seven-round magazine."

Shearer has one for sale. He lives in Northern Virginia, his wife is expecting a baby, and Shearer says he needs the extra cash.

Shearer could go to a gun show or a dealer, but he is using ARMSLIST, a site, he says, that's like Craigslist -- full of classified ads, but for guns. It's one of the biggest online marketplaces for firearms.

And like Craigslist, the people behind ARMSLIST are hands-off. They don't get involved in transactions, and they didn't respond to our request for an interview.

According to Roy Huntington, who edits American Handgunner Magazine, sites like ARMSLIST took off after eBay banned gun sales more than a decade ago.

"I don't have any numbers on it, but it's a huge presence in the marketplace," he says.

Innovators and entrepreneurs, Huntington says, go where the market is. There are sites for selling guns and trading guns. And there are online auction sites just for guns. It seems the convenience of the web is not just for books and clothes.

"I think in some limited sense online sales could make gun shows obsolete," Garen Wintemute says. He directs the Violence Prevention Research Program at U.C. Davis. He says that, at any given time, sites like ARMSLIST have tens of thousands of guns for sale.

"Online, I don't need to wander around the building looking for what I want," Wintemute says. "I can search for it specifically without leaving my chair."

And when Patrick Shearer finds someone who's interested in that Smith & Wesson pistol, that transaction will take place in private.

"Just like I would if I was going to sell something on Craigslist, we meet in a neutral spot that's convenient for both of us," he says.

Shearer says he does more than what Virginia law requires. He asks for two forms of ID, and he makes the buyer fill out a bill of sale. But, as with all online sales, no background check is required.


Find out how many background checks were adminstered in your state last year, and explore gun crime stats in our interactive map. View the map.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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"Shearer should consider himself lucky he didn't meet up with a guy who paid for his Smith&Wesson with a piece of pipe. I'm sure Armslist would have been a real help to him in that case."

Sir, being a long time seller on armslist and other sites, I have never had or heard anything happen like this. It's referred to like "craigslist" just as a general idea of how to meet someone to do the sale but when it comes to Armslist and other sites like Virginiaguntrader.com, the gun community is full of responsible people, kind and very well behaved. Those who do this, do it not only to make money but some do it as a hobby. Private trading and selling guns in VA is perfectly legal to do so without a background check.

Yes, online sales must have a background check done. What I do is not an online sale. It's simply an online advertisement. Online sales would require monetary transactions to be done through the Internet. I specifically state in my for sale/trade ad that my sale must take place in Virginia and that I do not ship the firearm to any FFL. Once I have established contact with the potential buyer and have spoken with him/her by phone, I get a sense of who the person is. We meet at a convenient location and he shows all of his proper IDs, I show mine, he signs a simple BOS and that's it.

A week or so ago, I came in on the middle of the Diane Rehm's Show, a person called in and tried to tell Diane what we've said in our comments. He was quickly dismissed from the show. Think it's a pattern?

A week or so ago, I came in on the middle of the Diane Rehm's Show, a person called in and tried to tell Diane what we've said in our comments. He was quickly dismissed from the show. Think it's a pattern?

"But, as with all online sales, no background check is required." This is completely FALSE!! Every online sale is shipped to an FFL an they run the background check

Why is it that everyone who does a report on firearms knows nothing about them? NPR brings in experts for everything. However when it comes to firearms the facts seem to take a back seat..

The vast majority of people who listen to NPR knows very little about firearms, and chances are what they do know is the misinformation they hear from NPR and other news sources.

Also why has Market Place just recently started doing stories about firearms and how they relate to the economy?

Sounds like every one who commented on this story knows about firearms, so there must be a lot of us listening to NPR.

Thanks for the plug for Armslist. I wasn't aware of them until you brought it up.

Hopefully you regret the sloppy reporting. If it hasn't occurred to you, suggest not reporting on something unless you can be confident in veracity. Also, with 90% of americans, including me (and surely you libs running marketplace), wanting universal background checks, why would you promote a website that at least in some cases may result in sales without any? What did providing the name add to the story? Shouldn't it be like news stories eliminating the names of minors and rape victims? No useful purpose is served by us having those names - or of this website. However, your promo may have
given an existing or would-be criminal a path for a crime. Very sad.

I was dumbfounded when the narrator said "As with all gun sales online, no background check required". This is either pure ignorance or a willful lie.
Just try to go online to Gunbroker, Gunsforall, Bud's, or any number of other auction & sales sites and try to buy one. In every case that I have seen, you are required to choose an Federal Firearm licensed dealer. A background check is performed before the gun comes out of the vault. This is blown WAY out of proportion.
No wonder they call NPR the National Propaganda Report.

Scott nailed it. What if Shearer's best offer came from someone too far away to meet in person?

How many eBay sales does Marketplace think take place between people who live within 50 miles of each other?

Every firearm I ever bought on the gunbroker.com had to be shipped to a local dealer near me in Northern Virginia, who ran the same background check on me that they run on their own customers.

I wouldn't sell a gun on Armslist for the same reason I wouldn't sell a piece of furniture on Craigslist. Too many predators and too many fake identities.

Shearer should consider himself lucky he didn't meet up with a guy who paid for his Smith&Wesson with a piece of pipe. I'm sure Armslist would have been a real help to him in that case.

Please correct your story. Yes in the state of Va, I can sell to a private individual without a background check. But, for me to legally sell to someone in another state, I must ship to a gun dealer. That dealer must perform a background check on the individual I want to sell the weapon. Your last sentence stated that all online sales don't require a background check. Remember, fair and balanced. Not Fox News fair and balanced. Just the real thing.

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