Guns bought at garage sales avoid background check

Published: Jul. 14, 2011 at 3:38 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:18 PM MST
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By Scott Kilbury – bio | email

Earlier this week, the Justice Department said gun shops in four Southwest border states, including Arizona, will be required to alert the federal government to frequent buyers of high-powered rifles.

It's an effort to track the flow of guns into Mexico.

What if they're buying somewhere else where a background check and registration are not required?

On any typical summer Saturday morning in Tucson, you can drive through nearly any neighborhood and find a yard sale or garage sale.

You can get almost anything from these bargain bonanzas; from furniture to sporting goods, even weapons.

"If someone wants to sell a gun at a garage sale, it's their right to do so. It is what it is: personal property," said Tom Mangan, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

While exploring one morning we found an East Side garage sale that had two rifles for sale.

"They've never been used," the owner informed us. He had all the papers of purchase and was ready to make a deal.

Anyone could buy them if they had the cash. No background check, no registration required. Even a convicted criminal could make the purchase.

"Certainly, selling them at a garage is their right to do so," Mangan said.

Darrell Murray is a retired highway patrolman with the Department of Public Safety who makes a little extra cash as a private gun dealer. He has his own bill of sale form to use when he sells a gun.

"Folks on their own, most responsible gun owners, are drawing up their own when they buy a gun from somebody," Murray said. " They get the serial number, how much they paid, the driver's license and the date it was purchased."

He and other dealers saw a spike in gun sales after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. He also saw a similar boost after the Tucson shootings six months ago.

"They tend to do that when they think legislation is coming that would be hindering the purchase of firearms," Murray said.

No additional laws have been put in place.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns endorsed legislation to improve background checks on those trying to buy a gun.

In January, the group led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg commissioned a sting operation at a Phoenix gun show. It illustrated the holes in the federal background check system and drew criticism from both sides.

If a gun shows up at a crime scene, it can be traced to the last register user. That's why it's in the best interest of the seller to have the gun registered to the new owner.

Some gun owners we talked to off camera say they want to avoid registering a gun because they think the government will take notice of their purchases. That's what makes private sales more appealing for them.

We spoke to a man who didn't want to be identified who bought a gun from a private seller years ago and plans to sell it at a garage sale.

"If I took it to a dealer or pawn shop I'd get $45 or $50. But at a yard sale I know I could get $150 easily," he said.

Back at the garage sale, we are certain at least one deal was made for at least one of the rifles.  No background check, but no cash either. The customer decided to trade for another gun.

Finding a garage sale with guns requires some persistence and patience.

From our experience, some publications and websites don't allow the word "gun" in an ad. Sellers use other phrases, like ".22,"  ".30 cal" or "pea shooter."

They might also have everything else related to guns in the ad - i.e.: loader, powder, ammo, etc. - and you just have to fill in the blanks.

Copyright 2011 KOLD. All Rights reserved.