The Gun Shop Watchlist aims to become a network for vetted firearms dealers to discourage bad behavior while respecting the Constitution.
Following the news that the terrorist in the Orlando attack was able to legally purchase his firearms from a local store after he was turned down by one licensed dealer just days before, software developer and long-time gun owner Seth Banks was listening to talk radio host Dave Ross, who broadcasts out of Seattle.
“Dave proposed the idea that gun stores should have a way to share this information, and that perhaps doing so could have prevented the incident; or at least have lead the FBI to [the terrorist] before he could kill innocent people,” Banks told Guns.com.
And with that, the Gun Shop Watchlist was born.
The idea is simple. A private network for verified Federal Firearms Licensees to share and report incidents they have with suspicious buyers, and communicate with each other. When one shop in the network posts an alert, other dealers within driving distance are alerted via email, in-app notification, and/or text message.
“FFLs deny gun purchases for all sorts of reasons; including mental health, straw sales, intoxication, violent comments in the store, etc. … FFLs are on the front line protecting our community from bad actors already. Why not make their jobs easier?” Banks argued.
The ability for private gun dealers to refuse sales on their own accord to individuals that leave a bad taste in their mouth is protected – even if controversial.
Last November a Florida gun store that declared itself a “Muslim-free zone” came out on top of a discrimination suit by Islamic groups after a federal judge agreed the store’s statements are protected under the First Amendment. Meanwhile, stores have been sued for negligence after selling guns to individuals with severe mental illness or were making straw purchases.
“I have a huge issue with both of those, finding them knee-jerk and unconstitutional at best; totalitarian at worst,” says Banks.
The GSWL simply aims to set up an exchange of information, not become a shaming site or black list.
“Sharing information on individuals that might threaten our safety is well within our rights as citizens — and happens all the time already,” Banks argues.
While intended for FFLs, the platform encourages interfacing with authorities if, say, there is a suspected prohibited possessor, terror suspect, or straw buyer making the rounds attempting to make an illegal purchase.
“One local gun store praised this as a great idea, but was concerned that people would use it as an alternate to calling 911,” said Banks. “It’s definitely not intended to replace direct interaction with law enforcement. Rather, I see it as a supplemental note-taking tool that could assist during investigations.”
Banks feels the network could benefit from interaction with law enforcement as well, making their efforts more effective.
“Police commonly circulate pictures and information about suspected criminals online and through the media,” he said. “I would see nothing to prevent them from doing the same thing with GSWL on a more focused level; directed towards the firearm community. More information sharing and transparent communication between the public and private sector is not a bad thing in my book.”
Planning to obtain his own FFL to better understand the processes involved, Banks is looking to partner with existing, knowledgeable people in the industry as well as lawyers and civil liberty advocates to help shape the service as it’s developed.
As it stands, the free service is in its initial beta stages and has about 50 members already. Feedback, Banks tells Guns.com has “been overwhelmingly positive and constructive” and as for those who question his motives, he says he just wants to contribute to help fix the problem and keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.
“I’m just a citizen that was sick of talking instead of doing,” he says. “I believe there are many other ways to reduce gun violence in this country (fund mental health care, eliminate the failed war on drugs), but saw this as an opportunity to make a positive change using the skills I have today. We’re all guilty of tearing down ideas in the interest of making ourselves feel smarter. I’m trying to be better than that.”