But Everytown’s analysis also provides evidence that criminals are increasingly evading these checks by purchasing guns in unlicensed sales. The share of gun purchases that were denied fell by nearly half between 2002 and 2013, suggesting that criminals may be seeking guns from unlicensed sellers — including transactions online and at gun shows, where background checks are not required —an easy way to sidestep the public safety measure aimed at keeping guns out of dangerous hands.
Drugs and Guns in Vermont
In light of the dangerous connection between guns and drugs in Vermont, illegal drug users and traffickers appear to be increasingly exploiting this loophole. Everytown’s analysis shows that the share of background check denials for unlawful drug use tripled between 2008 and 2013, from 6 percent to 18 percent.
Domestic Violence and Guns in Vermont
There is a deadly relationship between guns and violence against women in Vermont. Over the last 20 years, half of all Vermont homicides were domestic violence related, and 56 percent of domestic violence homicides were committed with a firearm. The background check system has helped keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers – since 1998, 356 domestic abusers convicted of domestic violence or subject to protection orders have been blocked from buying guns – but those same individuals can fail a background check at a licensed gun dealer, and then find guns online with no questions asked.
Since 1998, federal law has required licensed gun dealers to conduct a background check for every firearm purchase. Prospective gun buyers are screened against the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which blocks gun sales to those people deemed too dangerous to possess firearms under federal law—including felons, domestic abusers, and the severely mentally ill.
Everytown's analysis shows that since 1998 the federal background check system has blocked 3,034 gun sales to prohibited people in Vermont, including 983 gun sales to felons and 279 gun sales to unlawful drug offenders.
Between 1998 and 2013, the number of background checks conducted each year in Vermont has increased, reflecting an increase in the number of gun sales by licensed firearm dealers.
However, between 2002 and 2013, the share of total background checks denied fell by nearly half, from 1.2% to 0.7%. This is consistent with the hypothesis that criminals are increasingly aware that a background check will block them from buying guns at licensed dealers—and are seeking guns from unlicensed sellers online and at gun shows, where no background checks are required under current law.