AURORA, Colo. -- Getting your hands on a gun is easy. Despite all the talk about gun control you can buy a high-powered rifle or handgun with no background check, no paperwork and no questions asked.
In most states it’s perfectly legal.
In just a matter of hours, Senior Investigative Reporter Josh Bernstein bought an AR15, an Uzi and a 9mm MAC 11 with three 30-round magazines and a box of bullets.
The weapons weren’t purchased from a gun store or licensed dealer. They were purchased from total strangers in public parking lots.
The transactions were part of a month-long undercover investigation by FOX31 Denver. Our objective was not to take a stance on gun control, but to demonstrate the drastic difference between the highly regulated transactions taking place at gun stores and the generally unregulated world of private gun sales.
At a gun store background checks are mandatory. Your name, date of birth, address and other information are uploaded into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS. Last year, almost 18 million names were entered into the system -- nearly half a million here in Colorado.
Online it’s a much different story.
Private gun sales in Colorado, and many other states, require no background check, no paperwork and no questions asked. The Internet is literally inundated with ads. So we logged on and started to reply. The responses were overwhelming.
“Hi I have the Uzi for sale on Armslist,” wrote one guy. “We could meet at a grocery store parking lot,” said another. Within a matter of minutes our schedule was full.
We met one guy at a King Soopers parking lot in Aurora, Colorado. He was peddling a semi-automatic 9mm Uzi and three 30-round magazines. Asking price: $2,100.
He popped the trunk and we examined the gun, in broad daylight. Shoppers were everywhere. A man pushing a stroller just yards away.
Another guy hocking a highly modified AR15 met us at a Jefferson County Walmart -- right under the security cameras.
Over the course of just two days we met six potential sellers. In just a matter of hours we purchased three firearms, 100 rounds of ammunition and five 30-round magazines.
We bought the 9mm MAC 11 right outside a Subway sandwich shop. “It’s got a trigger job,” said the seller. “It shoots faster than any of the guns I have.”
We thought we had seen it all until one guy pulled out a 22 caliber Uzi in the parking lot of Babies “R” Us. “I mean the beauty of this gun is it’s pretty well balanced when you’re holding it with two hands,” he said.
When asked if it was an “appropriate” location to sell an Uzi the seller replied, “I feel safer here than I do in my own home.”
Douglas County resident Mike Cozza was stunned. “Shocked to hear that we just bought an Uzi in the parking lot?" Bernstein asked Cozza. "Yeah it’s not on my list for shopping I'll tell you that much,” he responded.
Nationwide private sellers account for 40% of gun sales
Private gun sales are a booming business. According to a recent study by the City of New York unlicensed private sellers account for roughly 40 percent of sales nationwide.
We shared our findings with Daniel Carey, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. When asked if a public parking lot is an appropriate location to sell a firearm Carey told FOX31 Denver, “I don’t see a problem with it.”
After reviewing the transactions Carey compared the sales to that of a “bicycle or a motorcycle or some other lawful or legal good.”
“Do you see how some members of the public might see this and think it is totally inappropriate?" Bernstein asked.
"Well I think it’s up to each individuals perception as to what they see as appropriate or inappropriate,” said Carey. “To me I don’t have a problem with it. To you, you may. To some folks in the audience they may agree or disagree with it.”
Major changes are on the way -- at least in Colorado.
Back in March, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, signed a series of new laws clamping down on private gun sales and so-called high capacity magazines. The laws, which take effect July 1, 2013 require universal background checks. A similar bill has failed to make its way through Congress.
The NRA is vehemently opposed to universal background checks. Carey claims they offer no “positive effect.”
He said the recent push for stricter gun control is “an emotional reaction” by lawmakers “to the very horrible and terrible tragedies that have taken place” at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Aurora theater shooting.
When asked if the NRA is in favor of “any restrictions” Carey replied “absolutely not.”
It’s currently illegal to own or even possess an “assault rifle” in Denver County. Therefore, we made certain that all meetings and transactions took place in neighboring counties.
The weapons we purchased never entered the city or county of Denver. The magazines and firearms were separated and stored at a secure location outside the county.