Bidders b***3 and m******m were going at it hard, upping each other in $10 increments, back and forth.

But it’s always the sniper who gets you in an online auction, isn’t it?

With just seven seconds left on the clock, bidder p******n swooped in and snapped up the lot of six guns in the government auction for $901. Outbidding the others by a buck.

The bidding war was flaring on the same day that emotional hearings — highlighted by Gabrielle Giffords’s earnest plea for gun control — were happening on Capitol Hill.

The two lots of weapons were being sold by a small police department just about seven miles away, in a small town in Prince George’s County.

“They all belonged to a gentleman who died about four years ago,” said Edmonston Police Chief Stephen Walker, who was in charge of the online gun sale.

The man’s family didn’t want his weapon collection, Walker explained. They were all legally owned hunting rifles — some of them semiautomatic, but there were no assault weapons in the lot — and the police department had tested them to make sure none were involved in crimes.

So why shouldn’t a small department with just eight officers make some money (almost $1,800 from the sales) on items that are perfectly legal?

It just goes to show you we are a nation awash in guns.

The auction sold 56 weapons from police departments across America in the past 14 days.

In the past year, they sold hundreds, including an Israeli Uzi machine gun from the Ahoskie Police Department in North Carolina and a lot of 22 handguns seized by the Johnson County Sheriffs Department in Tennessee. Firearms and ammunition are among their standard sale items, along with old file cabinets, office chairs, computers and lawnmowers.

When I reached out to the Web site to ask about their gun policy, Roger Gravley, vice president for client and marketing, immediately asked: “Are you talking about the M-16?”

No, I wasn’t. But apparently a police department had caused a stir earlier in the day when it listed a pretty gnarly military weapon before it was approved. The site quickly pulled it down.

The weapons being sold must be listed as government surplus, and they must be clean, Gravely said. The site relies on police departments to check them for criminal history; they don’t check the guns themselves.

“Mostly what we find are things that have been taken off of people during routine traffic stops, that kind of thing,” he said.

In order to bid, you must send the department a copy of a Federal Firearms License, and the winner must show that license when the gun is picked up.

But in some cases, the gun is shipped, and the shipper is required to check the license on the receiving end.


What about Seth Horvitz, a District resident who accidentally received a tactical military-style SIG716 semiautomatic rifle at his home — left by the UPS man — instead of the television he ordered from Amazon?

It’s easier than you think to get a weapon in America, whether or not it’s obtained legally.

One third of Americans have guns. According to the arms survey of 2007 compiled by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in Geneva, we are armed at nearly double the rate of the No. 2 country, Yemen.

An illustration by the Guardian puts it in stark terms, showing most of the world in green (few guns per capita) while the United States shows up the color of dried blood (many, many guns).

All the statistics bear it out. No other country has this many gun deaths.

On the day before the Senate Judiciary hearings on gun control, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who had come to Washington with some members of her high school during the inaugural weekend, was killed in a Chicago park as she took refuge from the rain under a canopy.

In Alabama, school bus driver Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was shot dead, and a 5-year-old boy riding his bus was still being held hostage by the gunman who unleashed hell on them.

This happened while Capitol Hill debated eensy, weensy incremental gun control measures that wouldn’t mean squat to a guy willing to do this.

“Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something,” Giffords said.

It isn’t as easy as passing gun laws, of course.

The jarring massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary and the daily violence that we have grown numb to are rooted in mental-health problems, poverty, substance abuse and many more issues.

The availability and acceptance of so many guns, however, is the spark that routinely ignites the social powder keg.

Giffords was right when she said: “It will be hard.”

Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read earlier columns, go to