03/11/2013 05:21 pm ET

Illegal Gun Purchases Attempted At Majority Of U.S. Firearms Retailers, Survey Says

A majority of U.S. gun retailers saw someone try to illegally purchase a firearm in 2011, but law enforcement officials were not always notified of the attempted crimes, according to a recently released survey conducted that year.

The survey found that roughly 55 percent of gun retailers had someone try to illegally buy a gun from them in the past year. Retailers surveyed expressed that they were largely against the illegal selling of guns and said they would support legislation that would make it more difficult to do so. However, law enforcement officials were only alerted of the attempted crimes 75 percent of the time, according to the study.

“These events are fairly very common and occur tens of thousands of times a year,” said survey conductor Garen Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program. “We know that illegal purchases are important ways to supplying guns into the criminal market.”

Illegal gun purchases are executed in two major ways: “Straw” or surrogate purchases where someone attempts to buy a gun for someone who is barred from owning a weapon, or undocumented purchases in which those without the required documentation attempt to buy a weapon. Straw purchases were the most prevalent form of attempted illegal gun purchase found in Wintemute’s study.

The research is comprised of more than 1,600 retailers actively selling firearms in the U.S., and it is believed by the researchers to be the first large-scale survey of its kind concerning gun retailers’ attitudes toward illegal gun sales. Despite the apparent prevalence of attempted illegal gun purchases, Wintemute said that he is not concerned that the crimes are underreported by firearm sellers. The survey indicated that a vast majority of retailers see the activity as a very serious crime. When asked about punishment for the illegal buying or selling of firearms, retailers often specified long sentences for buyers and sellers alike.

Pawnbrokers experienced attempted illegal purchases more frequently than dealers, with 78.1 percent reporting at least one illegal attempt in the past year. Ten percent of gun retailers surveyed reported someone attempting illegal purchases in their store at least once a month.

These findings come to light just as new gun trafficking legislation heads to a full Senate vote. The bill would define straw purchasing as a federal crime for the first time in history, and increase related penalties to $25,000. It is just one of four bills that comprise the majority of President Barack Obama’s gun control proposal.

"If we did it today, we would find that retailers strongly support that action," Wintemute said of making straw purchases illegal.

In-store retailers aren't the only ones experiencing illegal gun sales. Another study released recently discovered that firearm sellers on Craigslist agreed 82 percent of the time to sell guns to someone who admitted they probably would not pass a background check.



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