Are guns falling into the wrong hands online?

You can buy just about anything online these days, and that includes guns. In fact, the number of firearms bought and sold on the Internet appears to be growing.

The website Reddit has become a hub of gun-buying activity, according to a report published this week on Mother Jones. An investigation by reporters Mark Follman and Josh Harkinson found that at least 159 transactions have been completed through the site's "GunsForSale" forum. Some of the AR-15 rifles purchased through the site even had Reddit's alien logo on them. The website licensed the logo to a gun group in 2011, a spokeswoman told the magazine.

 One gun advocacy site defended the Reddit sales, saying that there are three types of gun transactions -- all legal -- taking place on Reddit. Gun dealers sell excess stock, others make personal sales across state lines and finally people in the same state can make a face-to-face transfer. There is no proof that Reddit has been the source of any illegal sales, writes Nick Leghorn, a self-described "gun nerd," on the site, called The Truth About Guns.

So people buy guns on Reddit. Big deal. But Abby Ohlheiser of The Wire notes that the real story "is less about Reddit than it is about the big gaping hole in America's gun laws" that turns the whole Internet into a gun shop.

Guns can be legally sold in a private transaction between two people in the same state. And some states don't require a background check in this scenario at all. Some people have even used Instagram as a source for private gun sales, Ohlheiser notes. Check out this gun that was selling for $3,000 on Instagram a few months ago.

A group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, co-founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, found 83,000 ads for guns on Armslist.com, a firearm sales site.

  The group examined 13,000 "want-to-buy" gun ads on the site over a one-month period last year, and found that at least one in 30 potential gun buyers had felony or domestic abuse records that would have caused them to fail a federal background check.

"These findings underscore the urgent need to close the private sale loophole," the group said in a report last year.

Of course, private gun sales have taken place long before sites like Reddit were around. What worries gun-control activists is that the Internet can much more easily connect a seller with a buyer -- and in some cases, a buyer that would never pass a federal background check.

But until Congress addresses the issue -- and at this point, the chances of that are slim -- those transactions remain perfectly legal.

  • Kim Peterson

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