On the morning of 8 January 2016, police officer Kurt Stokinger was shot in the leg during a shootout with a man previously convicted of multiple crimes. Now, Stokinger, who is based in the US city of Boston, Massachusetts, is suing the website that allegedly enabled the man to buy his weapon, an online classifieds site for guns called Armslist.
As CNET reports, the lawsuit was filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court and alleges that “Armslist’s negligence directly, foreseeably, and proximately caused a police officer to be shot by enabling a known drug dealer and convicted felon to illegally purchase a gun he could not legally obtain.”
The alleged shooter, Grant Headley, is described in the lawsuit as a “career criminal” who previously served time for both drug possession and unlawful possession of a firearm. Without access to Armslist, Headley wouldn’t have been allowed to purchase a gun legally, the suit claims.
Armslist doesn’t sell firearms directly, but instead works like Craigslist by allowing people to create listings and offer their guns for sale. The bottom of the Armslist website includes a disclaimer that reads, “ARMSLIST does not become involved in transactions between parties.”
The lawsuit alleges that while other websites have taken precautions to make sure that sales are legal, or avoided gun sales altogether, Armslist has “refuse[d] to institute safeguards.” The online auction site eBay banned gun sales on its site in 2002 and Craigslist banned guns in 2007.
The co-founder of Armslist, Jon Gibbon, specifically mentioned Craigslist’s ban in a 2010 interview as his reason for starting Armslist.
“Sometime during the Summer of 2007, I saw an interview about craigslist.com on TV. When I heard them say that they decided to ban all gun related ads because a few users cried out for it, it inspired me to create a place for law abiding gun owners to buy and sell online without all of the hassles of auctions and shipping,” Gibbon said.
From the lawsuit:
Armslist created and employs a series of website design features that offer illegal gun purchasers and sellers a smorgasbord of opportunity to purchase and sell firearms without having to undergo a background check or leaving any record.
What is more, in this instance, Armslist facilitated more than just an isolated private sale. Armslist’s negligence directly enabled a gun trafficking operation which allowed Headley (and other dangerous criminals) to purchase a gun in spite of the prohibitions and safeguards aimed at preventing him from legally possessing firearms.
Sara Johnson, who illegally and negligently sold the gun to Headley, purchased scores of firearms on Armslist.com for the very purpose of reselling those guns to drug dealers, gang members, and other persons unable to purchase guns through legal channels.
“Online gun sales which enable convicted criminals and others who may not legally possess guns are a major problem and this suit is aimed at addressing the grossly negligent actions which led to the serious injuries suffered by Officer Stokinger and which also have adversely impacted his wife,” John Kimball, a partner in law firm Blank Rome LLP, and one of the lawyers bringing the suit, said in a statement.
As the lawsuit notes, private sales account for roughly a quarter of all gun sales in the United States and don’t require a background check. More and more of those private sales are also happening online, despite the fact that many states prohibit the number of private sales a single person can make in a year. In the state of Massachusetts, private gun sellers are only allowed to make four sales before they’re required to register as a gun dealer. Armslist is not a federally licensed firearms dealer.