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Bloomberg sets sights on illegal gun sales online

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Almost two thirds of a sample of private online gun sellers in the United States were willing to sell a firearm to someone who could not pass a background check, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Wednesday.

Bloomberg, who is leading a national campaign against illegal guns, said a national investigation into online gun sales by private investigators hired by New York City uncovered a "vast and largely unregulated market for illegal guns."

The inquiry focused on 10 websites with 25,000 guns to buy and investigators contacted 125 private online gun sellers in 14 states. The investigators, posing as buyers, told sellers they probably would not pass a background check, Bloomberg said.

"When illegal guns can be bought and sold without background checks, tragic and deadly consequences result," Bloomberg said in a statement.

"Over the past decade, we've launched a wide-ranging attack on illegal guns," he said. "We're opening a new front in that battle by targeting what has become an increasingly prevalent and dangerous problem: illegal gun sales on the internet."

Bloomberg is co-chairman of the national coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which he helped found in 2006 in a bid to make cities safer by cracking down on illegal guns.

More than 500 mayors from more than 40 states are now members of Bloomberg's coalition. The group says 30,000 Americans are killed every year by gun violence.

Bloomberg said the city's inquiry into online sales, conducted by investigative firm Kroll, found 62 percent of sellers were willing to commit a felony by selling a firearm to someone who likely wouldn't pass a background check.

The National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, was not immediately available for comment on the study.

According to the Department of Justice there are more than 4,000 websites that offer guns for sale and about 40 percent of U.S. gun sales are conducted privately.

Licensed sellers are required to conduct background checks, but private sellers are not. However, private sellers are not allowed to sell guns to people they have reason to believe could not pass a background check.

Bloomberg said the private investigators recorded telephone calls with sellers during the investigation and used concealed cameras when meeting with them in person.

The sellers called were in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

"When the world learned that Lee Harvey Oswald purchased his weapon through the mail, there was a huge outcry and the Gun Control Act of 1968 regulated the sale of guns through the mail," New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

"We shouldn't have to wait for the assassination of a president or the killing of a police officer to dismantle a conduit bringing illicit guns into the city," Kelly said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)

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