Proponents of Gun Control are making History in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals just gave Yasmeen Daniel, a Woman whose Mother was Killed in a Mass Shooting in 2012, the go-ahead to Sue the Site her Mother’s Killer used to, Illegally, Purchase the Weapon he used. Up until now, Courts have Rejected efforts to hold Websites Accountable for Harm done by the Weapons they Sell.
The Lawsuit stems from a 2012 Shooting at a beauty Salon in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Gunman Radcliffe Haughton killed his Wife, Zina Daniel, and Two of her Co-Workers there before taking his own Life. Four other People were Injured in the Shooting.
Haughton was able to buy his FNP-40 Semiautomatic Handgun and Ammunition through Armslist.com although he was Legally Barred from Purchasing a Firearm at the time due to a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. The Order would likely have Prevented him from Passing Federally Mandated Background Checks at a Gun Store.
Yasmeen Daniel brought Suit in 2015, alleging Negligence and arguing that the Site was designed to Encourage and Facilitate Illegal Gun Purchases. According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which brought Suit on Daniel’s behalf, Armslist Guns had already been used in other Crimes, and at least one other Murder, even before the 2012 Shooting.
In prior Suits, Courts have found the Communications Decency Act, the Law containing a provision Protecting Websites from being Liable for what Users Post, Shields Operators from Liability for Sales facilitated through their Websites.
Section 230 says that Internet Service providers (ISP)s and Websites publishing Third Party Content would be Protected against Laws that would otherwise hold them Responsible for the Speech of their Users. It’s because of Section 230 that we have the Freedom to post Reviews on Amazon or Complain about Politics on a Wordpress site. Wikipedia and the Internet Archive exist in part because of Section 230. That mostly Hands-Off stance is also claimed as the reason Sites like Twitter and Facebook have been Loath to do anything about Violent Threats from White Supremacists or the Misogynists of Gamergate.
The Wisconsin Trial Court, too, sided with Armslist on that basis. The Appeals Court, though, Reversed the Lower Court, finding that Armslist.com, described as a “Firearms Classified Ad Website”, was more than a Passive Conduit.
The Three-Judge Panel of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals Unanimously ruled that a Federal Law that Shields Website Operators from Liability for User Content did Not Apply to Armslist LLC, the Operator of Armslist.com.
Armslist was Liable for its “own conduct in facilitating user activity,” the Judges said. They referred to the Site’s Design and Operation, which allegedly Promotes Illegal Gun Sales.
The Implications of holding Sites Accountable are Enormous. Kris Brown, Co-President of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Co-Counsel in the Suit, issued an illuminating Statement: “With one in five guns sold today without a background check - many through online sales on sites like Armslist - today’s decision is a significant one toward saving lives.”
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