U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg was joined by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Carl Levin (D-MI), John F. Kerry (D-MA), Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in sending a letter to online classified advertisement site Craigslist requesting that it immediately strengthen and enforce its ban on the sale of firearms.
A recent investigation by New York City found that while Craigslist has a policy prohibiting the sale of firearms, it is poorly enforced, resulting in thousands of advertisements for guns on the site.
"It is clear that the self-policing methods currently used by Craigslist are insufficient," the Senators wrote. "Of all the websites investigated by the report, including websites specifically targeting gun buyers, Craigslist sellers sold guns to people they should have reasonably believed were prohibited purchasers at the highest rate -- 82 percent of the time. This number is alarming, to say the least."
The Senators' letter is available here, and the text is below:
December 15, 2011
CEO, Craigslist, Inc.
1381 9th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94122
Dear Mr. Buckmaster:
A recent investigation by New York City exposed disturbing information about the sale of guns online, particularly the sale of guns through your website. Although we applaud your stated policy prohibiting the sale of guns on Craigslist, we are concerned that this report highlights a failure to enforce this policy. Accordingly, we ask that you immediately develop and implement better strategies for upholding your ban on the sale of firearms.
Each year, approximately 30,000 people die from gun violence in the United States. We must do all we can to prevent these tragic deaths. In particular, we must ensure that those who are prohibited by law from purchasing and possessing firearms are not able to obtain guns.
Unfortunately, this investigation showed the online sale of guns is ripe for abuse by prohibited purchasers, particularly because of the anonymity that can accompany these transactions. While federally licensed firearm dealers are required to conduct background checks for prospective purchasers, private sellers--including many on the Internet--are not legally obligated to do so. It is, however, a felony for a private seller to sell a firearm to a person he or she has reason to believe would not pass a background check. Nonetheless, the investigation revealed that, in 62 percent of instances where the seller had reason to believe the purchaser could not pass a background check, the seller proceeded with the transactions.
Notwithstanding Craigslist's stated policy prohibiting the sale of firearms, investigators discovered advertisements on Craigslist for 1,792 guns in only a 45-day period. Of all the websites investigated in the report, including websites specifically targeting gun buyers, Craigslist sellers sold guns to people they should have reasonably believed were prohibited purchasers at the highest rate--82 percent of the time. This number is alarming, to say the least.
It is clear that the self-policing methods currently used by Craigslist are insufficient. The New York City report based on the investigation noted that only 33 percent of the 1,792 guns advertised on your website were flagged for removal. Moreover, your policy that users should not email administrators for "run of the mill bad ads for guns" is particularly disturbing.
We urge you to do more to ensure that Craigslist's policy prohibiting the sale of firearms is enforced. Please update us on your progress on this matter at the earliest possible date. Thank you for your attention to this important public safety issue.