Online gun marketplace focus of lawsuit, appeal
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Aug 31, 2013 | 5248 views |  0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Valarie Schuette with her shotgun that she is selling on ArmsList.com. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Valarie Schuette with her shotgun that she is selling on ArmsList.com. Photo by Stephen Gross.
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An Oxford landscaper recently offered to barter lawn care for guns. A Shelby County man is looking for a pistol — any caliber. Appearance doesn’t matter, but he’s looking to do a “ no-paper transaction.”

Both of the requests were posted recently on the website ArmsList.com, an online marketplace that connects gun sellers and buyers.

Websites like Armslist are becoming hotbeds of illegal gun purchases, opponents of such websites say. Users of the marketplaces say they’re a legal, convenient way to buy and sell guns.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed an appeal last week to overturn an Illinois district court ruling in August that found Armslist LLC, which owns the website, not liable for the wrongful death of a woman killed with a gun illegally purchased through the website.

The shooter, a Russian immigrant living in Canada, paid $200 more for the .40-caliber pistol than the private Seattle seller was asking because the transaction was illegal, according to court records.

Valarie Schuette, 33, of Anniston has used the website for about a year. Schuette and her gunsmith husband had 12 guns listed on Armslist last week for sale or trade, including a 1960’s-model pump-action shotgun, several hunting rifles and a revolver.

Armslist works like the online classified website Craigslist. Buyers and sellers who don’t want to list their personal telephone numbers or email addresses can use the website’s anonymous email system.

Several attempts last week to reach Jonathan Gibbon, founder of Armslist, and an attorney representing the company for comment were unsuccessful.

In a 2010 interview with a conservative news website, Gibbon, a Pennsylvania attorney, said he got the idea for Armslist when he learned that Craigslist banned gun-related ads.

In that interview Gibbons told a reporter, “Imagine a gunshow that never ends.”

It’s that comparison to gun shows that worries opponents of such websites.

Federal law allows for the purchase of guns between private sellers without background checks or record-keeping. That exception is often called the “gun-show loophole” named for the popularity of person-to-person sales at those events.

Only licensed gun dealers are required by federal law to conduct background checks on buyers.

Researchers in a 2011 study completed by New York City found that of 63 private gun sellers on Armslist asked, 54 percent agreed to sell a guns to buyers who said they probably couldn’t pass a background check. The study was done during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, who is a cofounder of the gun-control advocacy organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

The number of guns sold through the website is not easily discovered, because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does not track the number of guns sold through Internet marketplaces. The site receives more than 3.5 million visits each month, according to Armlist.

Other online marketplaces like Armslist exist, but it’s the largest, according to the 2010 study, with 13,360 active gun listings posted within the last 100 days of the study.

The second largest was gunlistings.org, the study found, with 3,500 posted listings during that same period.

The dangers of anonymity

When reached by a text message, the Shelby County resident looking to buy a pistol with no paper trail declined a phone interview, but said he’d answer questions through email.

Emailed questions and text messages to the person went unanswered.

Among other bans, federal laws prohibit the sale of guns to felons or to those declared mentally ill by the government or who have been involuntarily committed. The sale of guns between individuals not licensed as gun dealers who live in different states is also prohibited.

While that 2010 study shows some chose to break the law, many people use Armslist to legally buy and sell guns.

Background checks aren’t required for person-to-person sales, but Schuette always asks for the buyers identification to make sure they’re of age before trading guns, she said.

“As far as a background check goes I wouldn’t have the means to background someone on their felony status,”

In his ruling, the Illinois judge noted that people who use Armslist must click through a terms-of-use disclaimer and agree to abide by state and federal gun laws.

The Brady Center appeal notes that “this poses no effective obstacle for anyone to – with the click of a mouse – purchase or buy a firearm, to or from anyone.”

Scheulette agrees, saying the disclaimer wouldn’t likely stop someone from making an illegal gun purchase, but, she said, Armslist “can’t police every single transaction made, because they’d have to staff somebody 24-7.”

Such a burden was also noted by the judge, who wrote in his opinion that Armslist would have to become “involved in sales transactions between third-parties.”

The Brady Center answered in its appeal is that the center is only asking for Armslist to provide notice on the website that interstate gun sales between private citizens are illegal.

“These changes would only entail a few simple lines of additional website programming,” the appeal states.

Schuette said her deals, always done face-to-face in public places, made through the website have all gone very smoothly. She thinks criminals would be afraid of meeting a person they don’t know for fear it could be a law enforcement officer.

“Like on Craigslist, you never know who you’re going to meet,” Schuette said.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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