Feinstein, Blumenthal Introduce Bill Targeting Armslist

Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is once again taking aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but this time she’s not going after social media platforms as she did last year with the EARN IT Act, a piece of legislation that would have required companies like Facebook and Twitter to certify that they’re in compliance federally imposed standards for detecting and reporting child sexual exploitation materials to police in order to “earn” immunity from legal challenges or criminal penalties based on posts on the platforms.

No, now Feinstein, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), is targeting websites like Armslist, where gun owners can post ads featuring firearms for sale. In a press release touting the Accountability for Online Firearms Marketplaces Act, the California Democrat says she wants to hold websites accountable for any “illegal gun sales on their platforms.”

“The only way to reduce the scourge of gun violence plaguing our communities is to close loopholes that allow prohibited people to obtain guns.”

“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.”

“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.”

There is no loophole, and retailers don’t operate under different rules when they’re advertising a gun for sale online. Armslist compares itself to Craigslist, and it’s in essence a digital classified advertising board. Many FFL’s use Armslist to advertise guns from their inventory, but buyers must still abide by all of the federal, state, and local laws governing those sales.

The same is true of private sellers who might use the website. The difference is that under federal law, those not in the business of selling firearms, but are instead disposing of a few guns from their private collection, do not have to conduct background checks on buyers. Most importantly, Armslist, as a third-party platform, isn’t responsible for how any of its users conduct their sales. How could they be, given that they’re not directly involved in the sale itself?

Courts have said that companies like Armslist are clearly protected by Section 230, which is why Feinstein and her anti-gun allies want to strip them of that protection. The result, however, wouldn’t be Armslist and other online marketplaces imposing background check requirements on all transfers of firearms. There’s simply no way for the company to police those transactions. Instead, sites like Armslist would simply go dark if Feinstein were to get her way. The real intent of this legislation (endorsed by all the major gun control organizations, by the way) isn’t to “demand accountability” from Armslist and other companies, but to shut them down entirely by trying to hold them responsible for any criminal activity on the part of users.