Image: Wisconsin gun shop
John Touscany  /  AP file
This photo from April shows Eric Thompson’s Green Bay, Wisconsin-based company, TGSCOM Inc., which sold guns or accessories to the killers in the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University mass shootings, as well as to a man who opened fire at a Pennsylvania health club. Police say the Wisconsin online weapons dealer quietly shut down the business in May amid scores of complaints from customers in nearly every state accusing the company of billing without delivering their orders.
updated 7/24/2012 6:47:17 PM ET 2012-07-24T22:47:17

Suspected Colorado movie theater gunman James Holmes purchased more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet in the space of 60 days, according to police reports. He also purchased four guns, including a military-style AR-15 assault rifle, from local stores. All of his purchases — both online and in-person — were legal, authorities said. 

"It's a wide-open marketplace," Tom Mauser, a gun-control advocate in Colorado whose son was killed in the 1999 Columbine shootings, told reporters. "The Internet has really changed things. You don't have to show your face. It's anything goes."  

But is it? That depends in part on whether you buy from a store or an individual. 

By federal law, when buying from a licensed dealer — in-state or out-of-state, in-person or online — you are subject to a background check. Purchasing from an online retailer triggers a face-to-face meeting with a licensed local gun dealer and a background check that can be completed over the phone.

If passed, the documentation is sent to the online seller who ships the order to the local dealer, where buyers pick up their purchases.  

"Is it easier to buy a gun online than in-person?" spokesperson "Tommy" said in his "How to Buy a Gun Online" YouTube tutorial. "Surprisingly, no. They both require a background check." 

Conditions are far more lax when individuals sell guns to each other.

When a transaction takes place between individuals who live in the same state — in-person or online such as through a classified ad — the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 does not require any recordkeeping, according to the Federal Government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). 

But a handful of state laws do. California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York have passed much stricter laws that include one or more of the following: requiring paperwork, banning private sales of guns, imposing a waiting period between purchase and receipt and outlawing fully automatic assault weapons.

In other states, handguns and assault rifles can be locally purchased from individuals within the state and without a background check as long as they are 21 years old or older. 

For instance,, the most popular online classifieds in Salt Lake City, Utah, shows more than 2,500 handguns and rifles for sale out of 6,352 listings for "Firearms and Hunting." The site publishes guidelines for buyers and sellers that are consistent with federal law. 

Sellers are advised not to sell a firearm to a person that they know or have reason to believe is a fugitive, addicted to any controlled substance, has a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking or threatening a partner or has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, among others.

Federal law also prohibits the sale of guns to people who have been hospitalized for mental illness.  

And here's where the ability to buy firearms online could make a difference. Online, a potential buyer could be just a name and an email. The seller would never see an incoherent, shaking buyer or otherwise suspicious behavior and have the opportunity to decline a sale.

Major online sites are cracking down of their own accord, however. Craigslist prohibits the sale of guns across its city-based sites, regardless of prevailing state laws. Ebay's policy conforms to California state law, viewed as the most restrictive in the country, including no sales of assault weapons, parts or directions on how to convert a semi-automatic weapon to a fully automatic one. No guns or ammunition are sold on

In May, Google banned sales of guns, gun parts and ammunition from its shopping site and for years has not accepted advertising from gun sellers. "This appears to be a calculated political statement by Google," the National Rifle Association last month said in a statement. The NRA has been silent on both Facebook and Twitter since just before the shooting.

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

Video: Gun sales soar in Aurora

  1. Closed captioning of: Gun sales soar in Aurora

    >>> good evening. just yesterday we got our first look at the suspect, james holmes , the unsettling sight of the man accused of one of the worst gun massacres in u.s. history . we're learning more about how he lived, where he lived and how it was he purchased an arsenal. we also learned that gun sales are spiking in colorado in the aftermath of this shooting. far to the east in washington today. the house of representatives stood still for a time. a moment of silence for the victims in colorado . one p member of congress from colorado said, since she's been in congress, there have been 23 moments of silence for various victims of gun silence. she asked how many more there need to be until something is done. we begin our reporting tonight with nbc's mike taibbi in centennial, colorado , good evening.

    >> reporter: it's happened in other cities where there have been horrible episodes of gun violence . gun sales and permit applications are soaring now. also today, some questions, how did james holmes pay for the arsenal police say he put together in the months before the massacre?

    >> is there anything can i do for you.

    >> reporter: at the rocky mountain guns and ammo shop in aurora. the days since the theater blood bath have been the busiest he's seen.

    >> the day after i showed up and there were 15 people standing out here waiting to get in.

    >> reporter: for many of baker's customers the massacre is the reason.

    >> the incident opened up my eyes to what's going on out there.

    >> reporter: it's not just in aurora, statewide, gun ranges have been packed. and applications for gun permits jumped 43% from the previous week.

    >> on july 20th , cbi conducted more than 1200 background checks related to firearms purchases. on july 19th , they conducted around 900.

    >> reporter: it costs thousands of dollars for the ammo holmes bought. he was in a doctoral program in colorado living on a 26,000 federal stipend from the national institutes of health . could he have usedarsenal?

    >> it's the national standard for stipends. so they can devote 100% of their effort to their research.

    >> reporter: he was devoting much of his effort elsewhere. he turned his apartment into a booby trapped killing zone. he registered on at least one dating site. he called himself classic jim. his soul penetrating eyes were his best feet tour and he spends a lot of time thinking about the futu future. a question for possible matches, will you visit me in prison.

    >> he was one of the best sons any man could ever have. and i've been honored to know him.

    >> reporter: two items of upbeat news today. christian bale is in aurora visiting victimsf the shooting. no newborn photo. the hospital says mom and baby are doing great. mike taibbi , nbc news, centennial, colorado .


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments