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Blumenthal Leads Legislation to Hold Online Gun Marketplaces Accountable for Facilitating Illegal Firearms Sales

Under this targeted Section 230 reform, online firearms marketplaces will no longer enjoy blanket legal immunity for illegal gun sales, In 2018, Armslist was able to evade accountability for facilitating a sale of a handgun to a domestic abuser who was legally prohibited from purchasing a firearm – and who used it to kill three people

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was joined by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) 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. Blumenthal announced the bill today at an event in Hartford, Connecticut with the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and leading gun violence advocates.

“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.”

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.

“It’s time to start holding accountable those who turn a blind eye to illegal guns 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.”

“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.”

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.

“No industry should be above the law — but for too long, the online gun marketplace has been the digital equivalent of the Wild West, a place where people with dangerous histories can get their hands on a firearm without passing a background check,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “We thank Senator Blumenthal for introducing a common-sense bill to ensure that online gun marketplaces are no longer shielded from accountability for irresponsible gun sales.”

“Websites designed to circumvent  common-sense gun violence prevention laws, such as background checks, threaten public safety,” said Brady President Kris Brown. “Our communications laws were never intended to provide these websites protection from accountability. Brady is proud to support The Accountability for Online Firearms Marketplaces Act and is grateful to Senator Blumenthal for introducing this important bill. It will save lives.”

“Lax standards for online firearms sales have created a marketplace for unregulated transfers of firearms without background checks, posing a significant risk to public safety. Yet under current law, the online marketplaces that enable these transfers enjoy sweeping immunity,” said Adzi Vokhiwa, Federal Affairs Director of Giffords. “The Accountability for Online Firearms Marketplaces Act would end blanket immunity for online firearms marketplaces and hold them accountable if they facilitate unlawful conduct. We thank Senator Blumenthal for introducing this critical legislation.”

“Laws that prohibit domestic abusers and others from purchasing firearms were put in place to save lives and reduce gun violence and a loophole that allows these individuals to purchase guns online makes everyone less safe,” said Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s Director of Outreach and Equity, Lauren Footman. “For too long the gun industry has operated under immunity from liability, even as the online gun marketplace has evolved and grown unabated. This gap allows guns to flow unfettered into communities suffering disproportionately from the gun violence epidemic. This bill closes a deadly loophole. We thank Senator Blumenthal for his commitment to reducing gun violence and making Americans safer.”

“This proposal provides important protections for victims and survivors of domestic violence who are often at increased risk when firearms are present,” said Meghan Scanlon, President and CEO of Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Both federal and state government have put common-sense laws into place to ensure that convicted domestic abusers or those under court orders of protection are prohibited from possessing firearms. Yet those protections only become a reality if a background check is conducted during the purchase of a firearm. We applaud Senator Blumenthal for working to close these dangerous loopholes.”

“Gun sales, deaths, and injuries have surged across the nation during the pandemic. Now more than ever, Congress must do more to keep guns away from individuals who should not possess them. The nation's gun laws have not been updated to regulate online gun dealers and these dealers have not been held accountable for irresponsible business practices that jeopardize our safety. We applaud Senator Blumenthal for introducing a bill that will close the dangerous loopholes to protect Americans from gun violence,” said Po Murray, Chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance.

“Closing the loopholes in background checks for gun purchases is essential if we are to effectively reverse the growing epidemic of gun violence in our nation,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “Online sellers must do their part to help ensure safe and responsible gun ownership. We’re grateful for this legislation, which will increase accountability for online marketplaces and make us safer.”