Local Election

I-594 campaign says 10 percent of online gun sales put firearms into wrong hands

Groups supporting an expansion of background checks for firearm sales in Washington have issued a report claiming that nearly one in 10 Internet gun sales in the Evergreen State is to someone ineligible to own or purchase a firearm.

The report, compiled by national advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, was based on its tracking of 16,739 gun ads it found on five online sites during a 138-day period from late February to mid-July. The group said it researched the ads as well as followed up on buyers’ criminal backgrounds — but it was only able to verify the identity of 81 buyers.

Buyers were identified through their own ads that expressed a wish to buy a gun, and in some cases undercover calls were made to verify the buyers’ intent or that they’d already secured a firearm.

Of the tiny sample, researchers found one in 10 was “barred by state or federal law from owning guns” because of a felony record, domestic violence or mental health issues.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland joined Everytown and Initiative 594 sponsors on a teleconference call with reporters Wednesday to announce the report, dubbed “Online and Off the Record.” They said it is more evidence in support of I-594, which would require background checks for gun purchasers in most every instance including gun shows and online.

“As mayor my primary responsibility is the safety and well-being of the people I represent. I-594 is common sense legislation,” Strickland said. “Illegally buying a gun through the Internet shouldn’t be easier than buying a pair of shoes online.”

In May, the Tacoma City Council unanimously approved background checks at all gun shows conducted on city property. The Tacoma City Council is scheduled next week to consider whether to follow Bainbridge Island and Mercer Island by becoming the third Washington city to endorse I-594.

Opponents of I-594 have mounted a rival initiative, I-591, that would bar the state’s adoption of a background checks law unless there was a federal uniform standard requiring it. I-591 also bars seizures of privately owned firearms without due process.

I-591 leader Alan Gottlieb has said background checks may be helpful, but are no guarantee felons won’t get guns. He said the report science was “extremely flawed.”

"While they take a look at the number of possible ads selling firearms, it doesn’t mean those people are disqualified or criminals,” Gottlieb said, noting that of the few examples of felons buying guns that are cited in the study, they’d do the same thing if I-594 is passed “and they’d never be prosecuted for illegally buying a gun.’’

Everytown’s analysis also compared the number of online gun ads to county populations and ranked them — finding Clark County was tops with 518 ads per 100,000 residents, followed by Thurston with 423, Pierce with 376, Mason with 305 and Snohomish with 236. The gun ads ran on web sites such as armslist.com, described as a Craigslist for gun sales.