Listings for semi-automatic rifles on the popular online gun website Armslist.com, September 27, 2013.
Last October, while most of the country was obsessed with the presidential election only a week away, Radcliffe Haughton walked into a Wisconsin spa with an entirely different obsession. Earlier in the month, Zina Daniel, his estranged wife, obtained a restraining order against him after a long history of domestic abuse and stalking. She worked at the spa, and he had visited before—seventeen days prior, he slashed her car’s tires in the parking lot outside.
But now he came with more than a knife: Haughton had a .40 caliber semi-automatic Glock handgun with him. Immediately upon entering the store, he shot Zina dead—and then murdered one of her co-workers, and then another. He continued shooting, and four other people were wounded before he finally turned the gun on himself.
The judge’s restraining order specifically forbade Haughton from buying a gun, and had he gone to any licensed firearms dealer, he presumably would have been denied. Instead, Haugton went to the increasingly popular Armslist.com, where tens of thousands of guns are up for sale, and where the vast majority of the sellers are private citizens. Within days he had the Glock.
Armslist.com is only a part of the online gun marketplace, but it is a big part—there were almost 100,000 listings on the site in August. The site, and many others like it, went from being virtually unknown to hugely popular in a matter of months, as other mainstream online retail markets, like Craigslist, cracked down on gun listings:
Courtesy Mayors Against Illegal Guns
A new study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns has revealed that every thirtieth gun sold on Armslist.com was sold to someone who would have failed a background check. Of 607 would-be buyers in the sample, which stretched from February to May of this year, 3.3 percent were sold to someone who committed a crime that prohibited firearm possession under federal law.
That ratio is many magnitudes higher than the one for licensed gun dealers—based on the rate of background check denials, only 0.87 percent of would-be buyers at licensed dealers are prohibited purchasers. The report gives a troubling analogy for the Armslist.com marketplace: if one in every thirty passengers on a Boeing 747 were on the federal terror watch list, there would be twenty-two suspected terrorists on board.