In 2012 a Wisconsin man bought a gun from another individual in a private sale through an advertisement placed at Armslist. He then used the gun to shoot up a salon where his estranged wife worked, killing three people. The fact that he was under a restraining order and a prohibited person didn’t present much of an obstacle.
The Brady Campaign had sued Armslist on behalf of one of the victim’s families and the case has been bouncing around the Wisconsin court system for the last six years. Most recently the suit had been thrown out based on protections provided by the Communications Decency Act. That court ruled that Armslist is functionally no different from any other seller of advertising such as a newspaper classified section (remember those?) or Craigslist (if they accepted gun-related advertising).
But today, a Wisconsin appeals court reinstated the suit.
But the Court of Appeals agreed with Daniel that her suit does not seek liability for those protected actions, but for using a “website design feature to facilitate illegal firearms purchases.”
That seems like a stretch, to say the least. Armslist basically runs classified ads. The pages of legalese and disclaimers you wade through in order to use their service makes it clear that it’s up to the seller to ensure he complies with all local laws.
“To repeat, Daniel argues, and the complaint alleges, that Armslist is liable for designing and operating its website in a way that encouraged prohibited sales, which she contends was a substantial factor in causing the shootings,” Judge Brian Blanchard wrote for the court.
“It may be fair to characterize all of the operational and design features alleged by Daniel to be in some sense ‘content-based.’ However, in this respect, the content is not ‘information provided by another information content provider.’
“Rather, it is content created by Armslist, and there is no language in the Act immunizing Armslist from liability based on content that it creates.”
While we’re not lawyers, that seems like bending over backwards in order to thread a very fine legal needle, to mix a couple of metaphors. This won’t be the last we hear of this suit. And while it’s likely to cost them a lot in additional legal fees, we’d still bet on Armslist coming out on top. At some point.