April 17, 2007 -- With just a few clicks of a mouse, anyone can find hundreds of guns for sale on the Internet.
There are Smith & Wesson revolvers, Glock pistols, Remington rifles and countless other firearms at various sites throughout the Web.
Federal law prohibits shipping guns from one state to another, which essentially cuts off direct Internet sales. However, some gun control advocates say that the Internet puts individual gun sellers in contact with buyers like no other system has in the past.
In many states, when a private gun owner sells a weapon to a citizen, a background check is not required. They still can't legally ship the weapons but can conduct sales in person.
Online sales are still a very small market. Buyers go to the Internet to cut out the middleman. Sellers now use the Web to unload their used cars, old CDs and countless other goods without dealing with markups by third parties.
The idea of selling a gun over the Internet is the same, although retailers who do background checks can add to the cost. The online world also provides a place to find rare guns or those that are no longer manufactured.
Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said that about 60 percent of guns are purchased through licensed dealers. The other 40 percent are sold at gun shows, person-to-person sales and through the Internet.
"The idea that you can buy guns without a background check from the local guy at the flea market is premised on the idea that we're a community and we know everybody in that community," Horwitz said. "The Internet makes us a lot closer with a lot of people that we don't know."
The Internet allows buyers to sort guns by make and model, and many ads often have photos and lengthy descriptions.
One online ad for a 9 mm Beretta almost sounds like a used car pitch.
"This is a beautiful gun. In near perfect condition," the Massachusetts seller wrote.
"Never jammed, misfired or misfed."
Horwitz adds that while he believes the background check system needs to be enhanced at licensed dealers, "I believe that all sales should go through licensed dealers. ... These are marketing channels that need to be closed."
Dennis Henigan, legal director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that "You can't escape the gun laws by selling guns over the Internet.
"What the Internet does -- just like what classified ads do -- is bring private sellers together. It can have the effect of facilitating gun transactions that are not subject to background checks," Henigan said. "It can bring together buyers and seller so easily."
Guns can be shipped from state to state, but must go through licensed firearms dealers, according to a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
Andrew Molchan, president of the Professional Gun Retailers Association, a trade organization representing 5,000 gun dealers nationally, said that there are safeguards in place to check the background of buyers.
According to Molchan, the sale of weapons from one private individual to another private individual is a very small segment of the market. He said most Web sites direct sellers to authorized retailers who do the appropriate background checks for their state.
Some Web sites that once connected gun sellers and buyers have stopped aiding in such sales.
In 1999, the popular online auction site eBay banned the sale of guns and ammunition on its site. Such transactions accounted for less than a quarter of a percent of its overall sales. At the time, eBay said it was concerned that the gun industry had become the target of lawsuits, similar to civil actions that had been taken against the tobacco industry.
"Initially, the category was created for antique and collector guns," an eBay spokesman said. "But standard-issue firearms are being posted and it became clear that it is hard to draw a line that fits with our brand image."