Mark Williams of Bradenton, Florida, was a convicted felon and the subject of a restraining order for domestic violence. Under the Federal Brady Law, he was ineligible to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer. But in April of 2003, he had no trouble obtaining the semiautomatic handgun that he used to murder his estranged wife in front of her nine-year-old daughter. He bought the gun from a "private" dealer through a classified ad in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Unfortunately, newspapers across the country, most unwittingly, have provided a route of easy access to weapons, including assault weapons, for prohibited purchasers. Unlicensed dealers needn't perform background checks or keep records of sales. When newspapers include ads from unlicensed dealers, they facilitate unregulated secondary sale transactions. Secondary sales, which include individual sales, gun shows, flea markets, internet and newspaper sales, are the source of 80% of firearms used in crime.
Activists across the country are making closing this dangerous loophole a priority. And it doesn't take an act of Congress. It only takes a management decision. Diane McFarlin, publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, had this to say after her paper adopted a policy of not taking classified ads for guns: "I believe strongly that this is the right thing to do. We certainly don't want to make it easier for criminals to gain access to weapons."
Since the National Campaign to Close the Newspaper Loophole was launched in 2001, fifteen major newspapers, including the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle and Denver Post, have changed their policies and no longer accept ads from unlicensed dealers.
A national survey of major newspapers revealed that the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press both accept classified ads from unlicensed dealers.