A website allegedly used by the man accused of the deadly mass shooting in Chattanooga to obtain firearms denies that it sells guns and instead describes itself as a “free-speech forum” after gun control advocates criticized its business model.
“Regarding some of the specific questions posed by the media, we would like to make it clear that Armslist does not sell guns. Armslist offers a free-speech forum and we routinely cooperate with law enforcement and will continue to do so in the future,” said Jonathan Gibbon, owner of Armslist, in the video posted to the site’s homepage last week.
The statement follows news that friends of the man accused of opening fire on two military facilities in Tennessee said the shooter obtained his guns – an AK-47, AR-15, semi-auto shotgun, and 9mm handgun – through ads posted on the website, and criticism by gun control advocates who argue Armslist should be responsible for screening buyers.
Critics of the company’s business model argue that the absence of regulation expands private sales, which do not require background checks.
“Gibbon has created a forum where totally unregulated firearm sales flourish,” said Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “Anyone with a functioning brain understands this platform is going to be used to divert firearms to individuals who can’t pass background checks, or who are looking to escape the notice of law enforcement.”
“And the best he can do is the standard ‘thoughts and prayers’ line? It’s pathetic, and a perfect representation of the gun industry today. All profit, no responsibility whatsoever,” Ladd said. “Nothing will change there, and in a few months (or weeks) we’ll be talking about the next mass shooter that Armslist.com armed.”
Armslist hosts sales ads for guns by both private and professional dealers, but it does not process transactions and in turn is not required to extensively vet its users. That responsibility is instead placed on sellers – an argument supported by a panel of federal judges last year.
Armslist won the lawsuit twice – once after it was filed in 2013 and again confirmed on appeal. The plaintiffs, who were represented by attorneys with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun violence, argued that since Armslist hosts the ads it should bear the burden of screening potential buyers and sellers as would a brick and mortar store.
But judges with a federal appellate court shot down the argument last year. To support their opinion, they pointed to a disclaimer on Armslist’s website advising users to comply with local, state, federal and international laws, or if users are unsure about the legality of a transaction they should contact federal authorities.
The basis of the lawsuit was a 2011 incident in which a Russian immigrant who lived in Canada used the website to buy a gun in Seattle and later murder a woman he had dated in Chicago. But the investigation by law enforcement found that the seller knowingly violated federal laws that prohibit out-of-state handgun sales and he was subsequently sentenced to one year in prison for the violation.
The final opinion described Armslist as enabling consumers to use a legal service, i.e. sell guns, and one that does not invite users to break the law.