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Illegal Sale #1: Knowingly Selling to Prohibited Purchasers

UPDATE: Watch new videos from the 2011 investigation at an Arizona gunshow.

Our investigation found that 19 of 30 (63%) of private sellers were willing to sell firearms to buyers who said they probably could not pass a background check.

Federal law states it is illegal for anyone to sell a gun to someone they "know" or "have reasonable cause to believe" is a prohibited purchaser, such as a fugitive or felon.

This includes any buyer who could not pass a background check.


Our investigation tested whether private sellers at gun shows would sell to someone they believed to be a criminal or other prohibited purchaser.

In a typical exchange, an investigator asked the seller, "So, no background check, right?" When the dealer said "No," the investigator responded "That's good because I probably couldn't pass one."

19 out of 30 vendors (63%) sold to undercover investigators who said they probably couldn't pass a background check.

In these transactions, agents purchased 20 semi-automatic handguns and 2 assault rifles from private vendors. Private sellers at every show were willing to sell guns to an apparent prohibited purchaser, and some did so repeatedly, at multiple shows.

Many private sellers made light of the fact that investigators said they probably couldn't pass the background check. Some sellers said that they couldn't pass a background check either. And, other sellers just laughed.

Faced with the identical scenario, 11 private sellers (37%) abided by the law and stopped the sale. One of them said, "Once you say that [you can't pass the background check], I'm kind of obligated not to….I think that's what the rules are"


Project of the City of New York. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Copyright 2009.