SAN ANTONIO – Unlicensed gun sales are a growing and potentially dangerous trend, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The primary source is the internet, including online forums, websites and social media, said Robert Topper, assistant special agent in charge.
He said unlicensed dealers are well aware more people have been shopping online during the pandemic.
“That’s where a lot of the online sales come from, and that just provides a wide audience for people to buy and sell firearms,” Topper said.
Yet repeated transactions for profit without a federal firearms license or FFL carries up to a $250,000 fine or up to five years in federal prison, or both, Topper said.
The cost for a license is $500, and $90 to renew every three years, in addition to the paperwork involved.
Topper said the general rule is, “if you’re buying the gun to turn around and sell it, then you’re engaged in the business.”
if you buy the gun for the sole purpose of making a profit, then you’re engaged in the business.
In contrast, occasional sales from a personal firearms collection, do not need to be licensed.
“Everybody’s perfectly welcome to do that,” Topper said.
But if they’re making repeated sales solely for profit, Topper said, “They can do it the legal way and their customers will actually undergo background checks.”
However, he said, often their customers are willing to pay extra to avoid failing a federally required background check, which is why they seek out unlicensed firearms dealers.
Customers, he said, like cartels and criminals.
As a result, Topper said the weapons could likely wind up in Mexico as well as the community.
“We’ve got ongoing investigations now where guns have been used within a day of being purchased from an unlicensed dealer,” Topper said.
However, he said if ATF suspects someone is unknowingly selling firearms without a license, they’ll receive a warning letter and an application for the federal firearms license.
He said the agency supports the right to own firearms, as well as selling them with the required license.
“Just to do it the right way,” Topper said. “It’s going to provide a lot more safety for our communities and do a lot to curb illegal firearms trafficking.”