Mayors eye tighter rules for online gun sales

Published: Thursday, Dec. 15 2011 11:22 p.m. MST

A national coalition of mayors wants websites that advertise gun sales to make sure they aren't inadvertently promoting illegal activity.

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A national coalition of mayors wants websites that advertise gun sales to make sure they aren't inadvertently promoting illegal activity. In a press conference in New York City Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said an undercover investigation revealed private gun sellers who didn't quibble when would-be "buyers" said they probably couldn't pass a background check.

On Utah's popular KSL.com classified site, 9 of 13 unlicensed sellers, or 67 percent, fell into that category, the group said. The numbers were worse for Craigslist.com at 82 percent, followed by Glocktalk.com (78 percent) and Gunlistings.org (77 percent).

It's not a new issue for KSL.com, which says openly on its site that it cooperates with police when questions about fraudulent or illegal sales across all categories surface.

In March, after a Deseret News story on Utah's conceal-carry permit law revealed concerns about the potential for guns sold on its sister organization's website to get into the hands of criminals or minors, KSL.com undertook a close look at the issue, including an online poll and multiple meetings with law enforcement officials and both pro- and anti-gun factions.

"We reviewed the firearms section of the website," said Brett Atkinson, general manager of KSL.com. "During this process we sought input from various constituencies including the Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI), Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), local law enforcement agencies, local gun dealers and users of our website. Based on input we received, we decided to post additional information encouraging our users to become familiar with the firearm laws."

Those laws require licensed gun sellers to conduct background checks. Private sellers do not have to do that, although they are not allowed to sell a gun to someone they believe would not pass such a background check.

Atkinson said KSL.com reviews its policies on all of its products on a regular basis.

In recordings played as part of Thursday's press conference, investigators posing as would-be gun buyers asked if they'd have to undergo a criminal background check and said they wouldn't be able to pass one. Most of the time, that didn't slow the sale down. It's a felony to knowingly sell a firearm to someone who cannot legally possess it.

On each listing for a firearm on its classified site, KSL.com notes the applicable laws, including a ban on selling to someone from out of state — such a sale must involve licensed dealers in both locales — or selling to minors. The site also counsels against selling to addicts, illegal immigrants, those convicted of domestic violence and others. It does not accept listings for destructive devices, machine guns, short-barreled shotguns or short-barreled rifles. Such transactions would be illegal.

"We support the rights of responsible gun owners to buy and sell guns," said Atkinson. "We will continue to educate the public about the applicable laws and to work with law enforcement to police our site."

More than 4,000 websites offer guns for sale, according to Department of Justice figures. Private sales account for about 40 percent of all gun sales, it says.

The coalition of mayors' campaign, called "Delete Online Outlaws," hopes to require that all gun sales include a criminal background check.

Its recommendations include requiring sellers to register with the sites to list guns for sale and buyers to register before contacting gun sellers. It also calls for a "simple mechanism" to flag suspicious behavior in gun sales and take down suspect ads. And it asks for internal auditing such as "secret shopping" to find and prevent problems.

Readers can express their opinion on KSL.com, where a poll asks: Should KSL Classifieds have a firearms section?

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: loisco

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