Feinstein, Blumenthal, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Hold Online Gun Marketplaces Accountable for Facilitating Illegal Firearms Sales
Aug 19 2021
Washington–Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in announcing legislation to hold accountable online gun marketplaces that allow illegal gun sales to be conducted on their platforms. The Accountability for Online Firearms Marketplaces Act would ensure that websites like Armslist no longer enjoy blanket immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and can be brought to justice for violations of law.
“It’s time to start holding accountable those who turn a blind eye to illegal gun sales on their platforms,” Feinstein said. “The only way to reduce the scourge of gun violence plaguing our communities is to close loopholes that allow prohibited people to obtain guns.”
“Bestowing blanket immunity on websites for illegal gun sales mocks common sense and public safety. A website that enables such deadly arms transfers should not enjoy a shield from all accountability simply because they’re online. Section 230 was never intended to provide a sweeping free pass to such illicit lethal gun trafficking,” Blumenthal said. “This bill will reverse the disastrous holding in Daniel v. Armslist and ensure that online firearms marketplaces are held accountable for the gun deaths they bear responsibility for.”
“Online gun marketplaces fail to take common-sense safety measures to prevent illegal gun sales on their platforms,” said Whitehouse. “There is no reason why a retailer should be allowed to evade responsibility simply because they operate online. It’s time to close this cyber loophole and protect against more unnecessary suffering.”
The largest online firearms marketplace is Armslist, the so-called “Craigslist for guns” which describes itself as the “largest free gun classifieds on the web.” Online gun marketplaces like Armslist can evade basic background check laws by allowing unlicensed sellers to sell guns to anyone, without a background check, no questions asked. As a result of lax standards, Armslist and its competitors have become rife with illegal and dangerous gun sales; unlicensed sellers comprise as many as three in four sellers on Armslist alone.
In 2012, Radcliffe Franklin Haughton purchased a NP-40 semiautomatic pistol and three fourteen-round magazines from an unlicensed seller on Armslist even after his wife obtained a restraining order that banned him from purchasing a firearm. He later used that gun to murder his estranged wife, Zina Daniel Haughton, and two of her co-workers, in front of their daughter.
Haughton’s daughter filed a civil lawsuit against Armslist alleging that Armslist facilitated unlawful conduct. Without even considering the merits of her claims, the Wisconsin Supreme Court dismissed the case under Section 230. The court’s decision in Daniel v. Armslist swept so broadly as to cover websites intentionally designed to encourage and facilitate firearms trafficking.
The Accountability for Online Firearms Marketplaces Act would clarify Section 230 to ensure that the law’s blanket liability shield does not apply to online firearms marketplaces. In enacting Section 230, Congress did not intend to grant a sweeping liability shield to all companies, including firearms marketplaces, merely because they operate in cyberspace. Under the Accountability for Online Firearms Marketplaces Act, online firearms marketplaces will no longer enjoy sweeping, blanket immunity—a change which will help take guns out of the hands of dangerous persons seeking to evade background checks and other gun safety measures.
The Accountability for Online Firearms Marketplaces Act is endorsed by Everytown for Gun Safety, Brady, Giffords, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Newtown Action Alliance and Sandy Hook Promise.