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City Buys Arsenal of Guns Illegally Online in Latest Sting

By Jill Colvin | December 14, 2011 2:30pm | Updated on December 14, 2011 6:01pm
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly holds a Ruger 9mm, the same gun used to shoot and kill police officer Peter Figoski.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly holds a Ruger 9mm, the same gun used to shoot and kill police officer Peter Figoski.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

CITY HALL — Undercover investigators working for the city were able to buy a handful of guns illegally online, including the kind of semi-automatic pistol that killed NYPD Officer Peter Figoski, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced Wednesday.

The investigation, which was meant to shed light on the "vast and largely unregulated market for illegal guns" online, found that 77 of 125 — or  62 percent — of private sellers targeted by the sting were allegedly willing to commit felonies by selling guns to buyers who explicitly told them they would likely not be able to pass a background check, officials said

"This investigation, for the first time, takes a snapshot of that new online market and unfortunately our investigation concludes that it’s not a pretty picture," the mayor's Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt said of the sting, which officials believe is the first nation-wide investigation into illegal gun sales by private sellers online.

The internet, he said, is "a 24/7 field day for felons... [And] until today," he said, "Nobody was paying attention."

The team of 15 private investigators based in Ohio targeted 10 of the more than 4,000 websites that sell guns online and reached out to 125 private sellers across 14 states. During conversations, some of which were captured in audio and video recordings, the investigators explicitly told sellers that they would probably fail a background check.

Federal law stipulates that guns cannot be sold to anyone who gives reason to believe they would not pass a check, but private sellers are not required to conduct formal checks themselves.

In one exchange, an alleged seller is heard assuring an investigator posing as a buyer that he doesn't need a background check to get a gun.

"Good, 'cause I probably couldn't pass one," the buyer says.

“No, don’t... Don’t say that, man. I don’t want to hear that," the alleged seller says, before agreeing to the deal.

A majority of sellers approached by the team agreed to sell the weapons, including 82 percent of sellers approached on Craigslist and 78 percent of those on Glocktalk.com. Craigslist has a no-gun policy, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson at Glocktalk could not immediately be reached.

During the course of the investigation, which cost the city a cool $290,000, the operatives also went through with the purchase of five guns including a Berssa Thunder .380 handgun, a Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle and a Ruger P95 9mm gun — the same kind used in Figoski’s killing.

"We already contend with the iron pipeline bringing guns into New York City. The last thing we need is an electronic pipeline," said Kelly, who noted that mailing guns was only banned after it was discovered that Lee Harvey Oswald bought his gun through the mail.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for the assassination of a president or the killing of a police officer" to toughen rules, he said.

To reduce the number of illegal online gun sales, the mayor urged the federal government to pass new legislation requiring a background check on every gun sold and to do a better job regulating sales online. He also called on websites, including Craigslist, to do a better job policing what's being sold.

The city has also turned its findings, including the footage, over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, officials said.

The latest investigation follows a pair of undercover stings conducted by the administration at gun shows in 2009 and 2011 designed to uncover the so-called "gun show loophole" that allows sales without background checks.

The most recent effort, staged in Arizona, was slammed by the state's top lawyer, who called the stings no more than a "public relations stunt" and told the mayor to mind his own business and stay out of town.

But Boomberg defended the approach, arguing the city was well within its reach.

"Peter Figoski was our police officer. We didn't overstep anything. And if I had to spend double that money to save one police officer’s life, I would do it instantly," he said, insisting all federal laws were followed and that gun shows have tightened their rules as a result.

He also urged New Yorkers to make calls to Congress and the President demanding stronger gun regulations in light of this week's events.

“We’re not going to take it any more. You damn well better do something. We are not going to have more Peter Fidoskis," he said.

The NYPD is still investigating exactly how the shooter got his gun, the police department's chief spokesman said.