Michael Albert Focia is a 50-year-old from Montgomery, Alabama. He’s sitting in prison for selling firearms without a license and shipping them illegally. Focia used the dark web to sell firearms to people in other states and countries.
“Modern criminals often think that the secrecy provided by the internet gives them freedom to violate the law,” U.S. Attorney Gorge Beck said.
Michael Andrew Ryan, a.k.a. “Gunrunner,” was a 35-year old man from Manhattan, Kansas. Ryan was busted for illegally exporting semi-automatic rifles and handguns to Scotland, Ireland, England and Australia. Ryan removed the serial numbers to make them harder to trace.
“The fact that international firearms trafficking has reached Kansas shows the power of the Internet,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall.
Both Focia and Ryan were using a website called “Black Market Reloaded.”
GAO and ATF Stings
When you think of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), it conjures up images of budgets, reports, and bean counters. It turns out, though, that some of its investigations involve undercover work and guns.
At the direction of Congress and working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the GAO set out to gather information on purchasing firearms on the internet. “The relative anonymity of the Internet makes it an ideal means for prohibited individuals to obtain illegal firearms,” according to the ATF. “The more anonymity employed by a firearms purchaser, the greater the likelihood that the transaction violates federal law.”
The GAO report shows undercover agents were able to buy a fully automatic Uzi submachine gun anonymously without any kind of background check on the dark web. They also bought an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon.
The agents, however, had to work hard at the sting operation. Only two of the 74 attempted transactions were concluded.
72 Attempts To Buy Firearms Were Denied By Sellers
In most of the cases, the potential seller refused to complete the sale. Upon hearing from the undercover agent that they were not legally allowed to own the gun, another third of sellers wouldn’t sell. The agents themselves got scammed by others that took the money and never delivered.
Firearms Can Be Bought For Lower Prices
Public policy organization RAND Europe, a non-profit division of the RAND Corporation, looked at the seedy side of the internet to examine black market arms transactions. The report reveals the overwhelming majority of weapons sold on dark web marketplaces originated in the United States. The study showed that “better performing, more recent firearms (are available) for the same, or lower price than would be available on the street or the black market.”
2017 Study Of Organized Crime
The National Crime Agency in The United Kingdom also acknowledges concerns over firearm sales on the dark web.
“There is increasing evidence that it is an avenue for individual without previous criminal contacts to acquire them,” the 2017 study of organized crime states.
The agency points towards the use of virtual or crypto-currencies like Bitcoin as a way to conduct transactions anonymously and without using conventional financial methods.
Firearms Sales Represent A Small Portion Of Dark Web Sales
Weapons represent just a small portion of transactions on the dark web, according to Nicolas Christin, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. He called the use of the dark web for firearms sales as negligible, especially compared to the number of illegal drugs being bought and sold. Christin estimates firearms sales account for less than 3% of sales.
Still, there is a consistent call from lawmakers in the U.S. in other countries to crack down on illegal firearms sales online.
“The volume can be considered sufficiently high to be cause for concern for policy makers and law enforcement agencies,” concluded Giacomo Paoli, one of the authors of the RAND report.
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