On the Internet, Murder is Just A Click Away
January 12, 2013
Jon Lowy /The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
A crazed man needs a gun to make his homicidal fantasies come true but he is not the sort of man who will casually walk into the local sporting goods store and answer questions about what type of gun he needs and for what purpose. Even if he could pass a criminal background check, the last thing he wants to do is fill out federal forms and have his gun purchase recorded and accessible to law enforcement. So what's a killer to do? Go online.
(December 13, 2012) -- A crazed man, his head awash in a depraved violent dreamworld in which he lives and hopes to make real. He is, we imagine, socially awkward at best, distant and clearly disturbed.
But he needs a gun to make his homicidal fantasies come true.
He is not the sort of man who will casually walk into the local sporting goods store, chat with the hunters and sportsmen, answer the salesman's questions about what type of gun he needs and for what purpose. He doesn't know much about guns, and why he needs a gun he'd rather not say.
And even if he could pass a criminal background check, the last thing he wants to do is fill out federal forms and have his gun purchase recorded and accessible to law enforcement.
What's a killer to do?
It's not a pulp fiction murder mystery. It's just that easy for a crazy killer to get a gun, online, with the click of a mouse.
That's how Jitka Vesel, a wonderful 36-year-old woman, lost her life.
And that's why the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence's Legal Action Project brought a lawsuit against Armlist, a prominent gun web site. It is the first lawsuit of its kind against a gun web site.
On April 13, 2011, Jitka Vesel, an immigrant from the Czech Republic, was shot and killed by Demetry Smirnov, a Russian immigrant residing in Canada who had met Jitka online a few years earlier. Smirnov stalked her and confronted her at her workplace parking lot where he shot her 11-12 times with a .40-caliber handgun.
The complaint alleges that Jitka's killer illegally purchased his murder weapon from a private seller whom he located through armslist.com, an online gun auction site owned by defendant Armslist, LLC.
The complaint alleges that the website's design facilitates illegal gun sales to unlawful gun buyers with no background checks and no questions asked, and encourages and enables prospective buyers to find gun sellers throughout all 50 states and evade laws that limit private sellers to selling firearms only to residents of their own state.
Responsible gun sellers and web site operators, like most Americans, recognize that guns should be sold with the greatest care in order to prevent arming dangerous people with the means to kill. Gun sellers and web site operators who knowingly funnel guns into the hands of killers and criminals must be held accountable.
In 1999, eBay announced it would prohibit online gun sales. Craigslist followed suit, banning firearm sales from its site. Other websites that allow private parties to post goods for sale, including Amazon.com and Google AdWords, also prohibit the listing of firearms for sale because of the high likelihood that such gun sales will funnel guns to the criminal market.
Sales conducted over the Internet frequently have been linked to illegal gun trafficking, sales to minors, as well as connected to the mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University. According to press reports, Armslist.com also facilitated the sale of the gun used in a recent multiple shooting at a Wisconsin spa in October 2012.
An undercover investigation of online firearm sellers conducted by the City of New York found that 62% of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said that he probably could not pass a background check.
The City reported that in the undercover sting, more than half of the gun sellers contacted who were listed by Armslist agreed to sell a gun to someone who said he could not pass a background check, in violation of federal law.
It is too late to save Jitka Vesel. But our lawsuit can bring accountability to the online gun market, and prevent similar tragedies. We as a nation are better than an anonymous Internet gun market where killers and criminals can easily get guns.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.