The Internet has become a convenient marketplace for illegal gun sales.
That's the conclusion of an undercover investigation commissioned by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office into online gun sales on 10 websites in 14 states, including Ohio.
Investigators contacted 27 unlicensed dealers in Ohio and found that 10 agreed to sell guns to prospective buyers who said they would likely fail a background check, according to a news release from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalitions of some 600 mayors across the country.
Investigators asked to meet five of the 10 sellers in person, and bought four handguns and an assault rifle with cash. (See Youtube video of an Ohio sting.)
By law, only licensed gun dealers must perform background checks on their customers, but unlicensed dealers are prohibited from selling guns to customers if they think they couldn't pass such a check, said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalitions of some 600 mayors across the country.
Mayors of more than 50 Ohio cities, including Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, belong to the coalition, which supports a bill in Congress to close a loophole that allows private gun sales without background checks.
"Is anyone really surprised at the ease of buying a gun? Because I'm not," said Cleveland Public Safety Director Martin Flask.
Flask is all in favor of changing the law to close the loophole that allows casual, or unlicensed sellers to peddle their weapons online, or at gun shows, without having to require background checks on their customers.
"Background checks work," he said.
A more extensive background check requirement won't stop street corner sales, Flask said, but it will help keep guns out of criminals' hands and reduce the violence in urban areas.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns came up with the Fix Gun Checks Act after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others in January, Glaze said. It was introduced in both houses of Congress earlier this year by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, and U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.
The act would require all gun sellers, licensed or unlicensed, to determine if a buyer is legally able to purchase a gun, Glaze said.
One way would be to request a buyer to present a gun permit that required a background check within the previous five years or to have a licensed gun dealer or the police perform a background check on the buyer.
Consequently, if police recover a gun used in a crime and find that previous owner had not taken those steps, he could face prosecution for a misdemeanor.
People who are not allowed to own guns include felons, people with a history of drug abuse or domestic violence, as well as those with a serious mental illness as determined by a court or that required involuntary commitment.
"The gun rights organizations have generally supported instant background checks and we are eager to work with them to extend those checks to this new gun market," Glaze said.
But at least one gun rights advocate in Ohio doesn't support the legislation.
Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said he doesn't trust Mayors Against Illegal Guns and believes its ultimate goal is to outlaw private gun sales, and eventually ownership, altogether.
Irvine said the Fix Gun Checks Act would simply drive up the cost of gun sales without reducing crime.
"The criminals steal their guns," he said. "That's the number one way a criminal gets his gun."
And as for the gun sellers, if 62 percent of the 125 unlicensed dealers contacted in the investigation are willing to break the law now, who's to say they won't still be willing to do so if the law changes, he said.
"They're still going to sell guns to criminals if that's what they're doing," Irvine said.