What Happened When Undercover Agents Tried to Illegally Purchase Guns Online

Posing as prohibited persons or out-of-state buyers, what happened when government agents tried to purchase guns online?

The short answer.  Unless they went to the dark web, they were rejected.

Findings in a two-year study, conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), tell the tale.

GAO Report

The GAO report states, “All of our attempts to illegally purchase firearms from private sellers on the surface
web were unsuccessful.” (Photo: GAO Report)

For clarity, the “surface web” is the regular internet you and I use every day.  For the study, agents went to a variety of online destinations to attempt to purchase firearms, including retailers, auction hubs and marketplaces, classified listings, forums and social media platforms.  Who knows, they may have even tested GunsAmerica.

The bottom line is that all 72 attempts “to illegally purchase firearms from private sellers on the surface web were unsuccessful,” as the report stated.

Translation: the majority of online gun sellers are law-abiding.

Agents used a variety of scenarios during the test.  Each scenario, whether it was pretending to be a felon or having a dishonorable discharge from the military or living in a different state than the seller and not wanting the transfer to go through an FFL, would disqualify one from purchasing a firearm.

Of the 72 sales, the numbers break down like so: 29 sellers refused to ship across state lines w/o an FFL, 27 refused after they learned that the buyer was a prohibited person, five of the sales were shut down by the website once the buyer entered in profile information disclosing that they were prohibited person or out-of-state buyer and the 11 remaining attempts, well, this is rather interesting.

“In the 11 remaining attempts, we encountered private sellers that appeared to have scammed us, or attempted to scam us, after we disclosed our prohibited status or asked to avoid using an FFL,” stated the report.

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“In two of these instances, we made a payment and never received the firearm or a refund,” it continued. “In the remaining nine attempted scams, our agents determined that the seller may not be legitimate and therefore did not complete the purchase.”

The AR that the GAO agents bought via the dark web.  The serial number was scratched off.  (Photo: GAO)

Apparently, the GAO agents never read my article: Don’t Get Scammed: Five Tips for Online Gun Buying, Selling.  They would’ve been able to see the scammers a mile away.  LOL.

Apart from the scammers who are endemic to every internet sales forum out there, regardless of the product, the takeaway is that there are more scrupulous gun sellers on the Internet than feckless ones.  This bucks the anti-gun narrative that the internet is a hotbed for illegal gun sales.  It’s not.

What’s funny is that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was behind this study.  She’s one of the lawmakers who called for it.  Something tells me these aren’t the results she was looking for.  Warren was hoping for some fodder to rail on about the need for criminalizing private transfers or banning online gun sales. #FAIL.

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The only success GAO agents had was buying guns on the dark web.  The underground internet which is a marketplace for illegal activity.  Two out of seven attempts were successful.  Agents purchased an AR-pattern rifle and an Uzi.  As for the other five attempts, the deals went south for a variety of reasons, e.g. the gun had sold to another buyer, technical difficulties using the dark web, the seller stopped responding, the seller refused to use an escrow account for payment.

Buying a gun on the dark web is the equivalent of buying a gun from the streets.  Which is to say, buying a gun from a criminal.  No surprise that they scored a few guns.  In fact, the real surprise is that the GAO agents weren’t more successful on the dark web.  Something tells me that these five illegal dealers caught onto the ruse and purposely terminated the deal.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Eric Holder January 12, 2018, 9:24 pm

    Sounds about right. Overall I trust the owners of privately owned firearms. I do not trust the individuals who are carrying firearms on behalf of local state or federal government. The only thing worst is giving the Police or FBI matches….you know someone is going to be burned alive………..ah my heroes thanks for your service.

  • Jay Hartig January 12, 2018, 1:57 pm

    My instincts tell me that when and if this is publicized beyond the GAO, the internet and the “dark web” will be psychically merged and equated, such that the few added purchases on the “dark web” will contribute to the advance conclusion the anti-2A crew is pushing for.

  • "harry" January 12, 2018, 12:47 pm

    You made the statement ” is how many of our tax dollars were squandered on this study, “. I completely disagree with that premise. The study needed to be performed to be able to refute statements from Senator Warren and other firearm “anti’s”. I have worked in the environmental industry for many years and research is paramount to answering questions like this one. You may not like the answer that you find but you won’t know unless you ask and research. I cannot tell you how many times in my “profession” how many people respond emotionally to an issue (both for or against an issue) rather than objectively looking at reality or the information that exists from respected studies and investigations. That being said, as a “lib” or “progressive” I own and deeply care about my firearm rights. But facts, not hyperbole, will ultimately protect firearm owners and enthusiasts. While it has been said “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”, we need data and facts to continue to make the case for responsible owners and the right to self protection.

  • Thinkingblade January 12, 2018, 10:09 am

    As a quick note – all formal GAO reports are a matter of public record. So anyone can go to the GAO website and look up what they have been doing. I used to get them often. There is a delay for them to publish their findings, certainly, but what is published anyone can see.

    It is probably fair to say these results aren’t going to get much publicity among the liberal media, but hopefully other sources will pick it up as GA has here.

  • Mike January 12, 2018, 8:13 am

    Another piece of info that won’t be released is how many of our tax dollars were squandered on this study, since the results weren’t what they were looking for and will likely never see the light of day. Using taxpayer monies to fund studies hoping to strip the rights of said taxpayers is plain wrong.

    • deanbob January 12, 2018, 6:12 pm

      I think you’re right. So it is up to those of us who go to public online forums and blog sights to pass on a summary and/or link to this (so to eliminate the demand for source or accuracy). I have been politely doing this with info that Judicial Watch discovers via FOIA lawsuits for years because I expect this kind of info to be ignored or suppressed from the masses.

  • joefoam January 12, 2018, 7:58 am

    I suspect the previous commenter above is correct. This info will never see the light of day anywhere but on pro gun sites like this one. It’s a real shame. Why can’t the NRA take some of the money I’ve been giving them and buy some air time or print space to advertise this?

    • Occams January 12, 2018, 10:09 am

      Because THAT is not ‘the agenda’. The agenda is a total ban on Americans owning firearms, because if they’d met with even a faint percentage, this ‘news’ would have been shouted across the land.

      Did you hear much about the ‘mainstream newscaster’ who “wanted to show just how incredibly easy it was to obtain an AR” ?

      Tape rolling, he went in to ‘get his gun’.


      DENIED. Spousal abuse and Restraining Order.

      No getee gunee.

      Ever see that on national news?

      • Z January 12, 2018, 12:25 pm

        Reading comprehension, get some. His question was why the NRA hasn’t pushed this study out to the public.

  • Darrell Wilson January 12, 2018, 6:23 am

    This is a report that in all probability will never be made public through media sources. It’s not the sort of news the liberal trolls like “Chief Spreading Bull” Warren wants reported.
    It wouldn’t be at all to the left’s advantage to publish news indicating that laws already in place are actually effective in preventing illegal firearm sales!
    That would no doubt slow their obvious agenda of disarming the American public!

    • Syl January 12, 2018, 6:27 pm

      Stop putting everything on Liberals, we love everything you love, We love Our guns, Our Democracy, Our Country, Our freedom. We will not try to take nothing that ALL Americans wants. Our political preference should have nothing to do with the hobbies we choose. Trump has divided us, we should try to come back together. There is no man on earth love guns and The Gunner Community and all the freedom we have as I do. I spent 26 years of my youth serving this Country as a US Airmen, i fought for everything we get from America, I will will use ALL the freedom that the Constitution specifies I can have

      • Jeff Huffman January 13, 2018, 10:03 am

        Syl, the parties were divided far before Trump’s administration. So stop putting everything on Trump.

      • Al January 18, 2018, 11:46 am

        TRUMP has divided us?!?!?!?
        So, Hillary’s “basket of Deplorables” and Obama’s “clinging to guns and religion” WASN’T divisive?!?!?!
        Don’t get me started on Warren, Schumer, and that idiot DeGette, standing and making VERY CLEAR where they stand on their “love” of us, and our guns and religion.
        They have been at the ‘divisiveness’ game LONG before Trump ever came along.
        As to your first statement, YOU might ‘love’ all that but the VAST majority of your fellow Libs Do NOT!!!
        Actions speak loudest, and their very actions let us know exactly where they stand, unless of course one has their head firmly buried in the sand. Hint.
        Bad news for you, your own side has determined that association is complicity, by being what you are politically, you are what they are.
        Unfair? Yes, but be so kind as to show us the times that your side has been ‘fair’.
        Left libs want NO GUNS, and they have made that clear.
        When you support them, you support THAT platform, and that’s the hard knock news of life.
        They have made it clear, you just aren’t getting the message.

  • Sepp W January 6, 2018, 5:54 am

    This is likely the first and last time this report will be seen. The liberals will not discuss it, let alone acknowledge it, because it doesn’t fit their narrative they have been shouting about the ease of obtaining a firearm from an legitimate online retailer illegally.
    Furthermore, even a private site I frequent often where private sales are available, are done IAW state and Federal laws, imagine that, private sellers policing themselves.
    Individual freedoms demand the responsible behavior of the individual, and therefore demand a moral code. Liberals despise freedom because they despise morality.

  • tsh77769 January 5, 2018, 3:38 pm

    Yeah, the majority of people and the super majority of gun owners are good and honest law abiding people. If you really want deal in illegal guns you need to get the ATF to help smuggle them to the Mexican drug cartels so they can murder cops with them, right Obama?

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