Brady Campaign Sues Armslist.com for “Internet Loophole” Crime Gun

 

Like the Church of Scientology, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence uses the legal system to harass its enemies. Sorry, the enemies of the Second Amendment. Nope. The friends of the Second Amendment. Knew I’d get there eventually. The Campaign’s sued the Interior Department and Hi-Point—unsuccessfully—and filed amicus briefs in court cases seeking to suppress gun rights and/or uphold gun control (e.g., Heller and McDonald). And now the Campaign’s suing ARMSLIST for facilitating the sale of a firearm to Dmitry Smirnov, who bought a .40 Glock though (not from) the website and then used it to kill Jitka Vesel. Which is a bit like suing a used car dealer for selling a vehicle to a person who then drives drunk and kills someone. Bottom line: it’s a PR ploy not a serious suit. Press release after the jump . . .

Chicago, IL  – The Brady Center announced at a news conference today in Chicago that it has filed a lawsuit for wrongful death in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois against Armslist.com, an Internet gun web site, on behalf of the family of Jitka Vesel, who was murdered by a stalker.  The complaint alleges that Jitka was killed with a gun sold illegally in an online sale facilitated by the web site.  This is the first lawsuit against a gun website for causing a shooting . . .

“Responsible gun sellers and web site operators, like most Americans, recognize that guns should be sold with the greatest care, to prevent arming dangerous people with the means to kill,” said the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project Director, Jonathan Lowy, counsel for the family.  “Gun sellers and web site operators who facilitate the arming of killers and criminals must be held accountable.  We as a nation are better than an anonymous Internet gun market where killers and criminals can easily get guns.”

According to the complaint filed today, on April 13, 2011, Jitka Vesel, a 36-year-old immigrant from the Czech Republic was shot and killed by Demetry Smirnov, a Russian immigrant residing in Canada who had met Jitka online a few years earlier.  Smirnov stalked her at night to a parking lot where he shot her 11-12 times with a .40-caliber handgun. The complaint alleges that he illegally purchased the gun from a private seller whom he located through armslist.com, an online gun auction site owned by defendant Armslist, LLC.  The complaint alleges that the website’s design encourages and enables users to evade laws that allow private sellers to sell firearms only to residents of their own state by enticing prospective buyers to search for and find gun sellers throughout all 50 states.

Sales conducted over the Internet frequently have been linked to illegal gun trafficking and sales to minors, and have been connected to the mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.  According to media reports, Armslist.com also facilitated the sale of the gun used in a recent multiple shooting at a Wisconsin spa in October 2012.  In 1999, due to the proliferation of illegal online gun sales, eBay announced it was prohibiting online gun sales.  In or around 2007, Craigslist followed suit, banning firearm sales from its site.  Other online websites that allow private parties to post goods for sale, including Amazon.com and Google AdWords, also prohibit the listing of firearms for sale because of the high likelihood that such gun sales will funnel guns to the criminal market.

A recent undercover investigation by the City of New York of online firearm sellers found that 62% of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said that he probably could not pass a background check.  The City reported that in the undercover sting, more than half of the gun sellers contacted who were listed by Armslist agreed to sell a gun to someone who said he could not pass a background check, in violation of federal law.

Jitka was killed in the parking lot of the Chicago-area Czechoslovak Heritage Museum where she had been working as a volunteer to prepare for a celebration in honor of former Czech-American Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.  Ironically, Mayor Cermak was assassinated with a handgun in 1933 while shaking hands with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the intended target of the assassin. The shooting helped lead to the first major federal gun legislation.

Smirnov is currently serving a life sentence without parole.  The gun seller pled guilty to the illegal transfer of a firearm to an out-of-state person, a felony, and was sentenced to one year and a day in prison. Jitka leaves behind her brother and life-long best-friend, plaintiff Alex Vesely, another brother, Pavel Vesely, and her father, Antonin Vesely

Jay Dobrutsky and Alex Marks of the Chicago law firm of Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C. are serving as co-counsel with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in the case.

avatar

About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

37 Responses to Brady Campaign Sues Armslist.com for “Internet Loophole” Crime Gun

  1. This is why we need “loser pays” lawsuit reform.

    • avatarRalph says:

      Absof^ckinglutely. And I’m saying so as a retired lawyer. Our tort system is totally FUBAR.

    • avatarTotenglocke says:

      Not just that the loser pays all court fees, but in cases such as this where a group goes after a company or individual, the loser should also have to pay restitution for defamation of character and the loss of their time and productivity for dragging the defendant through this bullshit.

    • avatarsanchanim says:

      I agree and have been saying this for years. The law suits help no one except the lawyers, sorry Ralph.
      In this case armslist.com will need to pay out, hopefully they have their insurance, which will cover it.
      Correct me if I am wrong, but private sales out of state need to go through an FFL, no? Also in the case of California, all sales private or not go through an FFL. The LGS gets their $65 transfer fee plus tax, on the amount the item was sold for. Yeah crazy I know..
      So if in private email a seller is willing to meet a non local person to sell a firearm, how is this armslist’s problem? The individual is committing a felony, not by using armslist, but outside of the official website. If they are local to one another and the state does not have a law requiring an FFL be a middle man than no law is broken really.
      I am sure it will be tossed, but at what cost to the company?

      • avatarBad Matt says:

        In Cali, you need to through an FFL who does the dros and 10 day waiting period, gets a $35 fee by state law but no tax (which is the major advantage of PPT sales. If the comes from out of state, I believe they do collect the tax.

    • One of the few positives here in the UK is that those bringing unmerited cases can be & are made to pay the other side’s costs.

  2. avatarDirk Diggler says:

    that is why people should file complaints with the State Bar of Illinois (ie, the Illinois Attorney and Registration Disciplinary Commission or IARDC (www.iardc.org)) and go after lawyers who file litigation without merit. just saying. . . .

  3. avatarJason says:

    Next they’ll sue Sprint for allowing communication between criminals.

  4. avatarLemming says:

    Just say’n, but wouldn’t it make more sense to sue the website they met through?

  5. avatarAverage_Casey says:

    So the website is not the reason for the transfer and yet the Brady Campaign is suing them? How does the campaign even have a right to sue? They weren’t injured by this at all. This is shameless, just shameless.

  6. avatarLTC F says:

    The shooter should probably also sue Armslist. Odds are he grossly over paid for his .40. The number of people (at least here in TX) who advertise used guns for more than the same gun costs new is amazing. Or the folks who have never heard of the Blue Book of Gun Values. Your 25 year old Marlin Model 60 with only a few thousand rounds on it and the slightly cracked stock is not worth $250, even if you throw in the half box of Winchester .22 you have sitting in the garage.

  7. avatarChuckN says:

    Pro-firearm groups should turn lawsuits like this around.
    Anytime a person is injured, or worse, due to anything
    that could end in a DGU; sue them for endangerment or
    whatever. Use the same logic they do. Since they support
    efforts to ban firearms and hold all firearm usage, even
    for self defense, in disdain, it’s harder for law abiding
    people to protect themselves. Ergo it must be the Brady
    Center’s fault if a bad encounter does not end in a DGU.

    Just remember that like the Brady’s efforts, the lawsuits
    can be bogus as long as you crush their financing and tie
    up PR in order to pound you opponent into submission.

  8. avatarIn Memphis says:

    Here is an idea, they sue and lose because the cause is stupid and they are not even the victim.

    They lose.

    Illinois taxpayers cover the cost, pissing off anyone who is on the fence and bringing more to our side.

    Just sayin’

    No offense to any Illinois residents.

  9. avatarBuuurr says:

    Wanton waste of time and money… they do it in Oregon with logging (even though they mostly don’t even touch the Redwoods) and use the legal system to prevent company’s from using a great resource. The best thing is that for every log felled in Oregon (at least the Medford side of things) twelve saplings have to be planted to take its place.

    I equate Brady folk to the hippies in Portland who strike up these suits. Both should have breeding rights revoked. The handicapped don’t get to reproduce. Why should they?

  10. avatarMatt in FL says:

    “Which is a bit like suing a used car dealer for selling a vehicle to a person who then drives drunk and kills someone.”

    Actually, that’s an improper analogy. Unless the dealer sold it on consignment, and even then it’s still not quite right. A better analogy would be if the sale took place in a flea market, and they sued the owner of the flea market.

    • avatarTerry says:

      An Even better analogy is that it would be like suing the newspaper that the seller listed the classified ad in.

    • avatarKelly in GA says:

      Or maybe sold the car in the classifieds, and sued the newspaper. On that note, do people even still advertise in papers?

    • avatarMark N. says:

      Beat me to it. I think an even better analogy is suing the newspaper which ran the ad placed by the seller. Armslist owed no duty to anyone–it was the duty of the participants in the transaction to comply with federal law, and the seller admittedly did not–resulting in his imprisomnment. I think that, unless a liberal judge hears this case in NY or something like that, it should go away at the pleading stage early in the litigation. Since Armslist is not a manufacturer, distributor, dealer or seller, it has no conceivable liability in this case. It has no duty–and realistically no ability–to police the transactions between private sellers and buyers except to the extent of fraudulent transactions that can result in a site ban.

  11. avatarRandy Drescher says:

    The brady’s track record isn’t too good,lol. They are as popular around here as bloomberg at a Tennesee gun show, Randy

  12. avatarChris Dumm says:

    I’m trying to imagine what possible standing the Brady Bunch has to sue anyone for a deal the Brady-oloids were not involved in.

  13. avatarJimD says:

    For the lawyers: Would this be considered a piece of SLAPP litigation? IL apparently has anti-SLAPP laws on the books. It’s a nuisance lawsuit designed to stifle 1st amendment rights…

    Lawsuit aside, it’s a shame when a seller doesn’t make the slightest attempt to confirm the buyer is legit. I’d never consider selling a gun to someone who doesn’t have a permit to purchase or carry, and matching photo ID.

  14. avatarBobby says:

    I wonder if he had stabbed the poor girl if Brady Bunch would’ve sued the Walmart he bought the knife from, since they sold a knife to a criminal.

  15. avatarSertorius says:

    I think frivolous is a bit of an exaggeration. This is a copycat lawsuit, based on the same theory as Fair Housing Council v. Roommates.com, a federal case from 2008. Eugene Volokh (a very smart and pro-gun law professor) has explained it all here:

    http://www.volokh.com/2012/12/13/brady-campaign-lawsuit-against-armslist-com-preempted-by-federal-law/

    The short version is the Roommates.com lawsuit permitted a suit against an internet site for facilitating discriminatory housing listings (i.e., allowing people to only search for “white” or “gay” roommates). The theory of the court was that there was no legal reason for Roommates.com to have checkboxes for race, since any use of race in housing is illegal discrimination. So the normal protections accorded by the law to internet sites (they are not liable for content posted by third parties) did not apply.

    As Prof. Volokh suggests, the Brady people are going to have a tough time shoehorning their case on the same theory. Out-of-state transfers are perfectly legal — so unless Armslist had a checkbox that said “Out of state buyer, non-FFL transfer”, this case is likely a loser.

    But once again, that’s not the same as frivolous. Given the Roomates.com case, I don’t think this lawsuit is actually “frivolous.” It’s just a loser.

  16. avatarGs650g says:

    Replace the word gun with car, knife, or baseball bat in their press release and see how much fun you can have.

  17. avatarJimulacrum says:

    From the report from whence the 62% figure came (http://www.nyc.gov/html/cjc/downloads/pdf/nyc_pointclickfire.pdf): “Investigators chose which private sellers to investigate based on several factors, including whether the seller had a relatively high volume of unique gun-related posts, whether they were selling a make and model of gun commonly used in crimes and whether the seller included direct contact information in their listing.”

    So, in other words, the “investigators” didn’t take a random sample of any kind. They carefully chose which sellers to target to maximize the potential to be able to claim that “[some large percent, in this case 62%] of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said that he probably could not pass a background check.” But it’s not a representative figure of private gun sellers. It represents the success rate of purchase attempts from a small number (125) of sellers who were specifically targeted by investigators as being especially likely to make the sale.

    This also entirely ignores the reality that criminals will get guns regardless of the law. If an irresponsible seller wants to get together with a criminal buyer, then that is what will happen. There is an entire “black market” of firearms dedicated to arming people who would be arrested for trying to buy guns from FFLs.

    Oh, and this, also from the report: “Seventy-seven of 125 online sellers agreed to sell a gun to someone who said he could not pass a background check – a 62% fail rate. Investigators met five of the sellers who failed the integrity test to exchange the gun for cash. All five sales were completed.”

    Wait a minute. What I’m reading here, if I’m not mistaken, is that the 62% (actually 61.6%, no real need to round) fail rate only refers to the purely online “integrity test.” Five out of five attempted purchases were actually completed, a 100% success rate, but a pretty meaningless sample size. For the other 72 “integrity fails,” there was no real attempt to buy the gun, and thus no illegal sale or any proof that a prohibited person would end up with a firearm.

    Had there been a real attempt to buy the gun, no one knows what would’ve happened. The seller may have had no actual intention of selling to the person in many cases. He might have been planning to leave the guy picking his nose in some random, out-of-the-way parking lot (probably what I would’ve done), or even to arrange with police to bust him for attempting the purchase (maybe what I would’ve done, depending on why the guy thought he’d fail the background check, which I would’ve asked out of curiosity).

    TLDR: All in all, a bullshit, under-sampled “study” designed to manufacture a frightening-sounding statistic and misapply it to a broader population. Well done, City of New York.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.