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Point, click... buy a gun?



Guns Under Fire


CNN's Don Knapp reports it's too easy to buy a gun
Windows Media 28K 80K

It's too easy, say critics.

April 29, 1999
Web posted at: 4:27 p.m. EDT (2027 GMT)

In this story:

Sen. Schumer: Loophole to close

Web dealers deny skirting law

Federal law is murky


DUBLIN, California (CNN) -- Selling guns on the Internet doesn't require a license, and buying them is just as easy. Forget the background check required by the Brady Law. The Web is a loophole that's wide open for anyone with the right amount of cash. Even minors.

Even before the Internet, there was a thriving black market that enabled criminals and savvy young people to get their hands on a gun. With the Internet, though, children and adults can locate a gun even if they have no connections to the criminal world.

Any Internet search engine will point you to a long list of gun dealers, from those who strictly follow the law of selling through a licensed federal firearms dealer, to those who just bring buyers and sellers together and leave it up to them to follow required procedures.

Sen. Schumer: Loophole to close

The firepower that can be acquired simply by going online is chilling," says Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, who wants to tighten federal laws.

His proposal would:

  • Allow only licensed gun dealers to have Web sites trading in firearms.
  • Require those dealers to register with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
  • Provide that all private transactions be handled through a licensed gun dealer to assure the waiting period and background checks mandated by the Brady Law.

"Under the anonymity of the Web," says Schumer, "strangers meet on the Internet under aliases, discretely bid for guns and make the sale with no questions asked."

Web dealers deny skirting law

Paul Helinski, whose Web site GunsAmerica puts buyers and sellers in touch with one another -- charging $10 for each transaction -- told CNN his customers are not trying to skirt the law.

"You would be a fool to put a gun on the Web with your home phone number if you wanted to sell a gun illegally," he told CNN.

While GunsAmerica cautions customers it's their responsibility to comply with federal laws, Schumer calls that a "cop out."

"It is as if we had gun stores and someone walked in and said, 'We're going to give you the gun. You have to go out and notify the federal government," the senator said.

Brian Smith, a federally licensed Internet gun dealer in Dublin, California, says he can't sell directly to individuals, only to other dealers. It's the dealer on the other end of the transaction who then requires Smith's customers to fill out state and federal forms.

"That's the law," says Smith. The threat of prison, he adds, has kept him from doing business any other way.

Andrew Molchan, director of the National Association of Federally Licensed Gun Dealers, said the 7,000 gun dealers he represents support a lifetime ban on gun ownership for anyone who commits a violent crime.

Federal law is murky

In its efforts to crack down on illegal firearm sales, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms says it is increasingly focusing on Internet gun trafficking. Although it is perfectly legal for gun merchants to list their products on the Internet, the anonymity and ease of a computer transaction can make it simpler to skirt the law.

"It is not illegal to advertise guns over the Internet," said Jerry Singer, an ATF agent in Chicago. "The problem comes in when a transaction is not properly made. In reality, you don't know who you're selling to if you don't have face-to-face contact."

The ATF and most gun control advocates emphasize they do not want to blame the Internet for gun-related crime. The fear is whether existing gun control laws, already considered somewhat murky, are adequate to cover the e-commerce phenomenon.

Correspondent Don Knapp and Reuters contributed to this report.

Lawmaker proposal would regulate Internet gun sales
April 26, 1999
Are guns or society to blame? Lawmakers search for answers
April 23, 1999
School shooting raises questions about teen access to guns
April 22, 1999
Bombs on the Internet: New fears about free speech vs. public safety
May 29, 1998

The Brady Bill
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
  • The Brady Law
B.E. Smith Enterprises
Senator Charles Schumer
Palouse Munitions
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