Gun Violence Takes Center Stage: Armslist.com Sued Regarding Wrongful Death of Jitka Vesel
Just prior to the deadly school massacre in Newtown, CT last week, the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois against Armslist, LLC, the owner of Armslist.com, on December 12, 2012. Attorneys for The Brady Center assert that Armslist.com played a large part in the death of Jitka Vesel, as the gun used to kill her was purchased through the website by her stalker. According to the Brady Center, the sale of the gun was illegal and the seller pleaded guilty to felony sale of a firearm to an out of state customer. The Brady Center also mentioned that the website did nothing to stop the sale of firearms to consumers in different states, because it allowed users to view classified listings in all fifty states.
Armslist.com is an online classified website that allows users to browse or post guns for sale. The website serves as the venue in which buyers and sellers of firearms come together. The private sale of guns is not a new topic of discussion. In the past, Internet companies have shied away from involvement in the sale of firearms. Online auction giant eBay has an extremely detailed policy on what can and can’t be listed on its site as it relates to firearms. eBay has a section in its policy related to firearms that defines firearm accessories as being “allowed”, “restricted”, or “not allowed”. While certain accessories can be listed, no complete firearms will be allowed on the site. eBay is not alone: Craigslist also has the following listed as prohibited items: “Weapons and related items, including firearms, ammunition, silencers, pellet/BB guns, tear gas or stun guns”. While these successful large websites and others have established policies prohibiting the advertisements of firearms, there are many smaller websites that don’t. A simple Google search will show you that Armslist is not the only one in the game. This is certainly something that the Brady Center hopes to change.
This will be an important case to watch as there are many websites that serve as venues for buying and selling goods whose owners undoubtedly believe they are protected because they are not the merchant and are not completing the sale. This degree of separation may not be enough to hide behind. Some merchants, even those not affiliated with firearms, may want to watch this case as well. If you sell, promote, or advertise a good or service that may not be legal to all people, then it will be important to consider how you will limit the availability of your goods and services. A simple disclaimer may not be all that is necessary.