A new study indicates that more than half of U.S. gun retailers reported turning away a potential customer who was attempting an illegal purchase, but the incident was not always reported to police.
NBC News reports that retailers experienced 30,000 to 40,000 attempted illegal purchases in 2011. Often, the person trying to purchase the gun would try to convince sellers to keep the transaction off the books and would use a so-called "straw man" as a stand-in to fill out the forms and undergo required background checks, according to the survey by the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California-Davis.
"These events are fairly very common and occur tens of thousands of times a year," said survey conductor Garen Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the UC Davis program. "We know that illegal purchases are important ways to supplying guns into the criminal market."
The survey authors calculated the number of straw-man purchases based on a figure reported by retailers themselves. The numbers reflect only instances where the retailer knew the buyer was attempting to purchase the gun for someone who was not legally allowed to buy one, so the actual figure is likely far higher.
"The key word there is 'attempt,'" said Andy Molchan, director of the 1,000-member National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers. "You know, 10 16-year-olds probably go into one liquor store during each year and attempt to buy a bottle of whiskey. But if they only attempted (and were denied), they didn’t buy it."
Most gun retailers said they refused to sell to straw-man buyers, but only 12 percent of those dealers said they notified law enforcement.