Federal investigators late last year attempted to illegally purchase firearms online after congressional members asked them to assess how well the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives was doing with the enforcement of existing laws.

The findings were stunning.

Investigators with the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) were dispatched to see whether private online sellers were engaging in selling firearms to people who are prohibited from owning firearms. The investigators attempted dozens of times to illegally purchase firearms from online sellers on the "surface web" (i.e. not the dark web), but were completely unsuccessful — going 0 for 72.

Key takeaways from the GAO's report:

  • The GAO attempted 72 times to illegally purchase a firearm on gun forums and other classified ads.
  • They were unable to obtain any firearms.
  • 29 sellers stated they would not ship the firearm.
  • 27 refused after they learned that the attempted buyer was prohibited from buying.
  • In 5 instances, the accounts the GAO set up were frozen by the websites, which prohibited them from even accessing the forums.

Investigators also attempted to purchase firearms on the "dark web," which is not used by most people and cannot be accessed through standard internet browsers. In these attempts, they did not disclose any information about whether they were prohibited from purchasing firearms.

The GAO attempted seven purchases on the dark web and successfully obtained two firearms, an AR-15, and an Uzi. The GAO did not make any recommendations in their report about any actions the ATF should take.