Undercover federal agents repeatedly tried – and failed – to purchase firearms improperly from illegitimate online stores. After two years, and 72 individual attempts at a sting operation, they have failed utterly to fraudulently secure a firearm.
Between the period of July 2015 and November 2017, these Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators, at Congress’s orders, attempted to purchase illegal private guns using a number of various platforms online. Not even a single transaction could be completed.
In about 29 of their attempts, the online stores denied sale after the request of illegally shipping the merchandise to the buyer. 27 others refused as the potential buyer (investigator) was a felon, domestic abuser, etc. 11 of these online stores conned the federal agents after discovering that they buyers weren’t allowed to carry guns, among which two received the money whereas never delivering the promised weapons. The last five attempts were to buy the weapons illegally purchasing weaponry were also put to an end, as the accounts were forced to be closed based on suspicious activity.
“Tests performed on the Surface Web demonstrated that private sellers GAO contacted on gun forums and other classified ads were unwilling to sell a firearm to an individual who appeared to be prohibited from possessing a firearm,” Seto J. Bagdoyan and Wayne McElrath of the GAO’s Forensic Audits and Investigative Service section, said in their report on the investigation.
Investigators specifically went after strategically aiming at the online stores owned by private sellers who didn’t possess a license for selling the firearms, also states were used that do not require to perform the background checks on all the potential buyers. The investigators also wanted to see how the private sellers would try to legalize the online gun forums while breaking the laws by intentionally selling weapons to someone who is not allowed to buy them.
“The purpose of our Surface Web purchase attempts was to determine whether private sellers would knowingly sell a firearm to an individual prohibited from possessing one, as outlined by the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA),” Bagdoyan and McElrath, said in their report. “Our agents used one of five scenarios based on a provision of the GCA when attempting to purchase a firearm. The scenarios involved overtly explaining why our agent was prohibited from possessing a firearm.”
Investigators, further, targeted the websites on the basis of the fact that the website was hosted nation wise or just regionally. And through a number of ads, they found access to the different variety of weaponry available online. They also based their investigation on how easy it was to get access to the website and via inputs from the organizations like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
“To perform Surface Web testing, our agents accessed public gun forums and other classified ads where private non-licensed sellers listed firearms for sale,” the report said. “These forums and classified ads were identified from our meetings with ATF and third-party entities, and a review of available documentation.”
Talking about their failure to buy the firearms, the report said, “Our agents successfully purchased two firearms from sellers we located on a Dark Web marketplace as a result of seven total attempt. ATF officials stated that the Dark Web is completely anonymous and is designed to facilitate criminal activity online.”