Mayor Bloomberg Discusses New Investigation by Mayors Against Illegal Guns Showing Thousands of Individuals with Criminal Records Are Seeking to Illegally Buy Guns through Online Sales
September 18, 2013
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered today at City Hall:
"Good afternoon. This is a serious subject. Let me begin by saying like so many New Yorkers, our thoughts and prayers have been with the people of Washington, DC since the horrific shooting at the Navy Yard on Monday, especially with those who were injured and the families who lost loved ones.
"We don't have all the facts about the shooter, but what we do know what happened this week has happened before - and sadly it looks like it will happen again until we get serious about this issue of just too many guns around.
"Since 2012, our nation has endured mass shootings in Pittsburgh, Miami, Oakland, Tulsa, Seattle, Wilmington, Aurora, Milwaukee, at Texas A&M, in Minneapolis, Brookfield, Portland, and of course, Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six faculty members were gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"The fact that those in Washington continue to stand by as innocent victims - children, parents, neighbors, and friends - are gunned down and continue to place the interests of criminals over the lives of law-abiding citizens - is a national disgrace and it just has to come to an end.
"Here in New York, we've passed some of the most comprehensive gun laws in the country. No state has a tougher mandatory minimum prison sentence for criminals who possess illegal guns.
"But as we discussed last month when I announced the largest gun bust in the City's history - an operation that seized some 250 weapons that had been funneled here from North and South Carolina, weak gun laws at the Federal and State levels have a direct, dangerous, and growing impact on the safety of people in our city and every city in America.
"Faced with inaction from leaders in Congress and in some state legislatures, our Administration has pursued a concerted and coordinated effort to crack down on illegal firearms; efforts that combine tough legislation, innovative litigation, and smart, proactive policing.
"Those efforts have helped to drive murder and shootings down to record lows here in New York City. But we know that local action is not enough. We also need national leadership - and that's why Boston Mayor Tom Menino and I formed Mayors Against Illegal Guns back in 2006.
"Since then, it has grown from 15 to more than 1,000 mayors - representing both major political parties and every region of the country. That includes 650 mayors who have joined our coalition in just the last year.
"The coalition has pushed for common-sense gun reforms in Washington and around the country. It has shed light on the trafficking market that fuels the supply of illegal guns. That market includes what has become an increasingly prevalent and dangerous problem: Illegal gun sales via the internet.
"Almost two years ago, our Administration conducted the first nationwide investigation of illegal online gun sales by private individuals who are not licensed gun dealers. Our investigators made phone calls to private gun sellers in 14 states who had advertised weapons for sale on 10 web sites - five of which accounted for the great majority of the firearms listings we saw.
"That investigation found that 62 percent of the gun sellers we contacted - who were told by an investigator that he probably couldn't pass a background check - disregarded Federal law and agreed to sell the guns to the investigators anyway.
"That investigation was of gun sellers. Today, we're announcing the results of the first-ever national investigation into online gun buyers conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
"In the digital age, convicted felons, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people who are legally barred from buying guns can do so online with little more than a phone number or email address.
"And as our investigation shows, thousands of criminals and other prohibited purchasers are doing just that. In fact, not only are criminals buying guns online, they're doing so brazenly by openly advertising that they want to buy them.
"Our investigation examined online postings listed between February and May of this year at the popular website Armslist.com - the Craigslist for national gun sales. We examined only ads posted by those wanting to buy guns - not those wanting to sell guns.
"We then used the phone numbers and email addresses that some of these would-be buyers voluntarily posted in their public ads and used them to conduct criminal record checks on these people. And what we found was alarming: 1 in 30 of these would-be buyers had criminal records that barred them from owning guns.
"As the chart to my left shows, if 1 in 30 people on a Boeing 747 were on a terrorist watch list, the plane would have 22 suspected terrorists on it - something no passenger or airline would tolerate, and something that Washington should not tolerate, either.
"In the past we've seen what can happen when dangerous loopholes allow criminals to have easy access to guns. Just last year, a judge issued a restraining order against Radcliffe Haughton of Wisconsin to protect his wife, Zina Daniel. That order prohibited him from buying firearms. So he turned to Armslist, where he found a nearby seller who sold him a .40 caliber semi-automatic Glock handgun with no background check.
"Tragically, Mr. Haughton then used that gun the very next day when he drove to Ms. Daniel's workplace, murdered her and two of her coworkers, and injured four others before turning the gun on himself.
"When you consider that Armslist will host some 800,000 unique firearm ads this year, including many that are completely anonymous, our investigation makes clear that we can safely estimate that more than 25,000 guns may be transferred to criminals each year through Armslist alone.
"And that is on one website. There are dozens and dozens of sites that sell weapons. Individuals looking for guns on Armslist are also nearly four times more likely to have prohibiting criminal records than buyers at licensed dealers that require background checks.
"Now keep in mind, our investigation covered only those people proactively posting ads wanting to buy guns. If 1 in 30 people posting their contact information in ads wanting to buy guns are criminals prohibited from buying guns legally think how many criminals are answering 'Want to sell' ads, which they can do with complete anonymity.
"This investigation has just scratched the surface of the internet's vast illegal gun market - and if nothing is done, that market will continue to grow. The widespread disregard for the law that our investigation revealed demonstrates the need to take three immediate and critical steps.
"First, Federal law should require a background check for every gun sale - not just those involving licensed dealers. In more than 40 states, criminals and other prohibited purchasers can avoid background checks by buying handguns or long guns from unlicensed 'private sellers' - often at gun shows or through anonymous online transactions.
"These private sellers are not required by federal law to conduct background checks. As a result, an estimated 6.6 million guns are sold or transferred each year with no background check and no questions asked.
"Bipartisan legislation pending in both chambers of Congress - sponsored in the Senate by Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, and in the House by Representatives Pete King and Mike Thompson - would close this gaping loophole.
"Second, it's critical that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Federal agency responsible for enforcing gun laws, investigate online sales and enforce existing laws.
"The ATF should also create an online training video explaining the Federal laws governing online gun sales. This would be similar to the online training videos ATF has produced for licensed gun dealers and the general public.
"Third and finally, web sites should develop and enforce policies that deter illegal gun sales. I think most Americans would agree that online retailers should meet the same public safety standards that we've come to expect in the brick-and-mortar marketplace.
"For example, when Fisher-Price received 600 complaints this year that parents were concerned about mold on one of their sleepers for newborns, the company recalled 800,000 models. That represents a 1 in 1,333 risk - significant, but far less than the 1 in 30 risk that we all face from a criminal purchasing a weapon through one of the most popular websites for gun sales.
"And at a minimum, all web sites that facilitate gun sales should require buyers and sellers to provide verified personal information about themselves before they can complete transactions. The web sites should also add features to alert web site administrators of suspicious behavior.
"All of these steps would go a long way toward ending the kind of disturbing practices our investigation uncovered. And they might well prevent more needless bloodshed and loss of life in our city and nation.
"On that note, let me turn the floor over to our Criminal Justice Coordinator, who helps spearhead our coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and who directed this report: John Feinblatt."