Unlicensed private gun sellers can legally sell their guns without background checks through gun shows, out of homes and increasingly through online platforms, the New York Times reports. The digital loophole is causing alarm among gun-control advocates. Senate Democrats negotiated a provision into the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that is expected to greatly increase the number of background checks in the unregulated gun market. The act was signed last year. The regulations, expected to be released soon, would require anyone who earns a profit from selling firearms to obtain a federal license and conduct background checks. Previously, dealers were required to join the federal system only if they derived their chief livelihood from selling weapons. Failing to register carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
The new measure is an attempt for the first time to regulate dealers such as Armslist, Florida Gun Trader and GunBroker.com, an online marketplace responsible for selling tens of thousands of guns in the U.S. every year. The regulations will set a threshold number of transactions that would define a dealer. The rules will be backed up by a renewed push to prosecute businesses that refuse to register. Armslist, the best-known online gun-trading post, was founded in 2007. The company’s business model did not involve actually selling guns, but instead creating a virtual marketplace. Visitors are asked to attest that they are over 21, that they will indemnify the company for damages and that they will not use Armslist for “any illegal purpose.” There is no specific mention of disqualifying factors under federal law, such as a criminal record, involuntary commitment to a mental institution, a history of domestic abuse or drug use.