Call it “Craigslist for guns;” call it “eBay for guns” … President Obama didn’t mention the website by name in his speech on Tuesday (Jan. 5) outlining stronger gun control legislation, but a reference was made to Armslist.com.
It’s the largest peer-to-peer firearms sales website in the U.S., founded, as The Guardian notes, in 2007 after Craigslist banned all gun-related posts. Financial Times, in recounting a 2011 stalking murder in which the weapon was purchased on Armslist, utilizes the eBay comparison (while noting that, like Craigslist, the real eBay presently does not sell firearms nor does Amazon or any other major online marketplace).
Armslist is arguably the most visible of the online private sellers that are of central concern in the Obama administration’s reenergized efforts to reduce gun violence in the United States. Much like firearms dealers who trade their wares at gun shows, these websites are not subject to the background checks on potential buyers that licensed gun retailers are mandated (and have been since 1993) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to perform. It is estimated that 40 percent of annual gun sales in the United States are made by unlicensed sellers.
The White House’s goal is to expand these background checks to apply to sellers like Armslist, so that their customers can be screened for criminal records, mental illness, histories of drug abuse and/or non-U.S. citizen status — all factors that would prohibit a person from purchasing a firearm.
“The largest markets for unlicensed gun sales now are online. Just as books and clothing and even groceries have moved online, so have guns,” Ted Alcorn, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety, told FT. “Prohibited people know there aren’t background checks in this market, so they’re flocking to it.”
Should President Obama’s proposed gun control measures be ratified into law by Congress (a measure that a number of outspoken Republicans have already vowed to block or overturn, a stance supported by the National Rifle Association), it would certainly put a dent in the business model of firearms sellers like Armslist.
The site’s cofounder, Jonathan Gibbon, at least publicy, is expressing a lack of concern right now. He is quoted in the FT story as calling the president’s action “well-meaning but ultimately ineffective,” given his opinion that the background check process for private sellers is too “costly and burdensome” to make it worth their while.
That rationale, however, is not going to dissuade the U.S. president, who stated bluntly this week: “People are dying … And the constant excuses for inaction no longer suffice.”