The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the nation’s largest advocacy group committed to reform of the nation’s gun laws, and to educating the public about gun violence, has filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit targeting online gun sites.
The suit filed in Cook County, Illinois was filed on behalf of the family of Jitka Vesel, an Illinois woman who was murdered by a stalker in April of 2011. Vesel was shot a dozen times by Demetry Smirnov a man whom she had dated for a short time, before she ended that relationship. The Canadian man should have been unable to purchase the weapon because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, and didn’t have a permit. He bought the gun used in the attack illegally from a Washington state man he contacted using the site Armslist.com.
The campaign says this is the first time a site like Armlist has been sued due to actions, which led to a shooting.
Many states mandate that personal sellers of guns only sell to those people who are residents of that same state.
“Responsible gun sellers and web site operators, like most Americans, recognize that guns should be sold with the greatest care, to prevent arming dangerous people with the means to kill,” said the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project Director, Jonathan Lowy, counsel for the family. “Gun sellers and web site operators who knowingly funnel guns to killers and criminals must be held accountable. We as a nation are better than an anonymous Internet gun market where killers and criminals can easily get guns.”
Smirnov who later pleaded guilty to the murder was sentenced to life in prison. The Washington state man who sold him the gun Benedict Ladera was sentenced to a year in prison in June of this year.
But did the site do anything wrong?
“It appears that this is a lawsuit that tries to hold a third party responsible for the actions of an individual over which he has no control,” Dave Workman, Spokesman for Second Amendment Foundation.
Workman went on to say that he doesn’t know if a second amendment case or really a first amendment case. He says the organization would monitor the case, but since they aren’t litigants might not necessarily take a position.
First amendment expert Ken Paulson in speaking to The Huffington Post weighed in, “It would be an uphill battle for someone to prevail in a lawsuit against this website, but it’s not impossible. In the end, it will be about their [Armslist's] awareness of the users and whether they’re aiding and abetting criminal activity.”
Gun violence disproportionately affects African-Americans. The Children’s Defense Fund’s 2012 “Protect Children Not Guns” highlights some startling statistics.
According to the report, “Black children and teens accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun deaths in 2008 and 2009 but were only 15 percent of the total child population. Black males 15-19 were eight times as likely as White males of the same age and two-and-a-half times as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed in a gun homicide in 2009.”
It’s undeniable though that in communities of color a steady pipeline of illegal guns could have disastrous consequences. Baltimore recently trumpeted its 1,000th illegal gun arrest of the year. It’s a staggering number in a city, which like a number of major cities struggles with its murder rate.
Will taking on gun sites stem a flow of illegal guns or threaten the rights of law-abiding gun owners?
Workman also thinks that The Brady Campaign has a fight on their hands. He points to the losses big city mayors took when they took on gun manufacturers in the 1990s.
The outcome of the Vesel case is sure to be landmark no matter which side ultimately prevails, but maybe will reignite a political debate in Washington over gun control. That’s the type of debate New York City Michael Bloomberg, and the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns would surely appreciate.