The owner of a popular website in the 2A community is suing tech giant Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram over the platforms’ banishment of the site last year. Jay Carson, an attorney representing Armslist and owner Jonathan Gibbon in the lawsuit, describes the site as a sort of Craigslist for gun owners, and says a key part of their ability to connect with users is through social media. In January of 2020, however, Armslist lost its ability to use Facebook and Instagram; a decision that Gibbon and his attorney believe is directly related to the pro-2A politics promoted by the company on Facebook and Instagram.
According to the lawsuit, Gibbon, along with Armslist and Torquelist LLC, a sister company that serves as an internet vehicle parts marketing site, were cut off from the social media sites based solely on their politics and support of gun ownership rights.
“Armslist frequently posted commentary supportive of Second Amendment rights and critical of certain proposed gun control measures and the political figures supporting these measures. In addition, many Armslist posts called attention to the use of firearms in stopping and preventing crime, the significance of firearms in American history and culture and the Constitutional protections relating to firearm ownership,” the lawsuit states.
Facebook and Instagram targeted Gibbon, as well as employee Andrew Varney III of Pittsburgh, for their conservative and libertarian political views, according to the lawsuit.
As part of Armslist’s court filing, it referred to political pressure imposed on Facebook by members of Congress seeking to hold the social media company accountable for gun violence and illegal gun sales and challenged them to curb gun sale advertising on those sites.
I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if the decision to block Armslist from Facebook and Instagram was related to its pro-2A posts, but I suspect that the website itself also caused heartburn for the platforms. Gun control organizations have taken aim at Armslist in the past, both in the court of public opinion and in actual courtrooms, by accusing the site of being responsible for deaths and injuries caused by individuals who had obtained a gun from Armslist users.
Armslist doesn’t buy, sell, or transfer firearms. Instead, it’s basically an online classified advertising platform where users can post guns, ammo, and accessories for sale. Those users must follow all applicable state and federal laws when transferring those items to buyers, but anti-gun activists have tried to blame the website itself in cases where users have chosen instead to violate the law an engage in illegal transactions.
You’d think executives at Facebook and Instagram would be sympathetic to Armslist, given the fact that plenty of people want to hold social media platforms responsible for any and all posts from users; a position that the tech industry has vociferously opposed for years. Despite that common bond, Facebook has imposed a ban on advertising gun sales on the platform, and several gun stores have expressed frustration with the platform’s rules, which they say make it impossible for them to advertise their store even if they don’t mention guns or ammunition at all.
Still, Facebook is a private company, which will make Armslist’s legal challenge an uphill battle. Rather than simply claiming that the company is violating the First Amendment rights of Armslist, however, attorneys are basing their case on a clause in the Pennsylvania constitution that they say protects public access to free speech. It’s an interesting approach, but it’ll take some time before we see whether it’ll be fruitful as well.