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Study: Online Markets Lead To Illegal Gun Sales In Vermont

A new report from a national gun control group says an unregulated online gun market in Vermont is putting more than 100 firearms in the hands of felons and domestic abusers annually.

Under federal law, those groups are not allowed to own guns.

The report from Everytown for Gun Safety says a proposed state law could help regulate the market and keep hundreds of guns from falling into the wrong hands.

It estimates that almost 3,000 guns are sold online every year based on classified ads posted on three popular gun sales web sites, and none of those sales require background checks because those checks are not required for the private transfer of firearms.

Based on data from June to October of last year, the report estimated that about one in 24 of the 2,926 guns are sold to people who wouldn't pass a federal background check if they tried to buy a gun at a federally licensed dealer.

Those dealers are required to conduct background checks before selling a gun to anyone, and Everytown for Gun Safety Research Director Ted Alcorn says that policy should be extended to private sales as well.

"So we're looking only exclusively at the kind of transfers that are happening between people that don't know each other," Alcorn said. "And here we're showing that there's a huge volume of these sales, and you have law-abiding gun owners in Vermont who aren't empowered to have a background check and to require a background check of the people that are seeking guns from them."

"The criminal act is being committed by the felon that is trying to illegally obtain a gun, and I don't think a criminal background check is going to change that." - Rep. Pat Brennan

Not everyone thinks universal background checks would make Vermont safer. The Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs voiced strong opposition last week to proposed legislation that would mandate universal background checks.

Republican Rep. Pat Brennan of Colchester says such a law would place a burden on people like a father giving a hunting rifle to his son, but would be unlikely to slow down those who would fail a background check.

"The criminal act is being committed by the felon that is trying to illegally obtain a gun, and I don't think a criminal background check is going to change that," Brennan said.

Lawmakers are expected to debate the proposal this session.

Update 11:05 a.m. Jan. 29, 2015 Everytown for Gun Safety initally overstated the number of "for sale" posts by private sellers on the three websites in question. The above report has been updated to reflect the corrected numbers.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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