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eBay Gets Bad Press over Handling of Gun Parts

eBay is getting bad publicity this week over a report that criticizes the way eBay handles the sale of gun parts on its marketplace. “For the do-it-yourself crowd,” wrote Reveal in an article on Wednesday, “building an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is as easy as browsing ads on eBay.”

eBay currently allows sellers to list gun parts, but with many restrictions. Reveal said eBay fights the sale of illegal and prohibited gun parts in two ways: through automated keyword filters that flag items that might violate its firearms policy, and by giving users the ability to flag an item for review by submitting an online report.

But the publication detailed the efforts of one of its reporters to flag a prohibited item for removal. Three phone calls to eBay and three weeks later, the item remains for sale on eBay, it said.

Reveal talked to a seller of assault rifle parts who lists on eBay and GunBroker.com. “He quickly learned what other eBay sellers have figured out: If you don’t explicitly say that an item is part of an assault weapon, you’re not likely to be caught.”

Three years ago, EcommerceBytes delved into eBay’s shifting stance on the sale of gun parts on its site. It banned the listing of gun parts on its marketplace in 2007 after the shooting at Virginia Tech, acknowledging that some items used in the shooting had been purchased on eBay.

eBay spokesperson Amanda Miller told EcommerceBytes in 2012 it ended the ban on firearm parts and accessories on Dec. 8, 2011 following an internal policy review. “We made this change to more closely align our policy with legal requirements and to give sellers opportunities to offer more products in the hunting category.”

Writing about Wednesday’s report in Reveal, online publication Gizmodo asked, “eBay is an enormous retailer with plenty of resources, and it’s (sic) solutions so far have come up laughably short. Why not hire a team to manually trawl and flag for potential gun-parts sellers?”

We asked eBay if its efforts to enforce its Firearms, weapons, and knives policy was effective and whether eBay had a team that manually look for violating listings, as Gizmodo suggested it do.

eBay spokesperson Ryan Moore responded, writing in an email, “We take proactive measures to identify listing that violate our policies, including but not limited to, keyword filters and other automated monitoring tools. Additionally, every listing has a “report this item” link, which allows our community members to alert us to listings for our review and removal. Through continuous investment in systems and teams dedicated to monitoring for and removing listing that violate our policies, we strive to provide a safe and secure shopping experience.

“On eBay, you are not allowed to list a receiver – without one, you cannot build a gun or assault weapon. Additionally our policy prohibits magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. Our current policy is in line with California, as it has the most strict gun laws.”

Moore referred us to eBay’s Firearms policy for more information.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.