A new GAO report outlines the results of GAO’s attempts to purchase weapons through the dark web – research prompted by Congressional requesters asking “that GAO assess the extent to which ATF is enforcing existing laws and investigate whether online private sellers sell firearms to people who are not allowed or eligible to possess a firearm.”
The project is an unusual one for an agency accustomed to handling more staid subject matter in its reports, and the reliability and reproducibility of the results have raised questions.
Overall, GAO found that many of its attempts to purchase weapons – even through “darknet” sites intentionally obscured from public access and tailored to covert transactions – were rebuffed.
“Of the 72 attempts agents made to purchase firearms on the Surface Web, 56 sellers refused to complete a transaction: 29 sellers stated they would not ship a firearm and 27 refused after the disclosure of the undercover identities’ stated prohibited status,” the report states. “Furthermore, in 5 of these 72 attempts, the accounts GAO set up were frozen by the websites, which prevented the agents from using the forums and attempting to make a purchase.”
GAO found that “the results of the testing are illustrative and nongeneralizable,” and specifically noted that the agency was “not making recommendations in this report.”