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Will Gun Control Impact Online Sellers?

Concern about gun control has helped boost the sales of guns in the past. In 2008, the founder of GunBroker told us that sales had picked up around the time President Obama was elected over concern that about his agenda. In 2012, Bloomberg reported that sales of guns spiked after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut due to people who feared a backlash that might result in gun control legislation.

This week, the president took executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence, and specifically mentioned the online sales of firearms:

“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business – from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.”

But will it affect firearm marketplaces? GunBroker already requires that items be shipped to a licensed dealer near the buyer’s home – usually a gun dealer. The buyer goes to the dealer, passes the background check, and only then receives the item.

But this week, some UK publications wrote about a site called Armslist, a firearms marketplace that they say does not have those restrictions in place.

The Guardian said most of the Armslist vendors it spoke with – but not all – require background checks by making the transfer through a licensed dealer, making the issue moot for much of the activity on the site.

But The Financial Times painted a different picture, saying of Armslist, “The website dominates a vast, unregulated world of online arms bazaars that President Barack Obama now has in his sights.”

The Times wrote, “So-called private sellers, who trade only occasionally or in small numbers of weapons, are not required to vet their clients, or obtain a licence. That is the exemption Mr Obama is seeking to end using his executive powers. It is known as the “gun show loophole.””

The White House FAQ about this week’s executive actions states the following:

Consistent with court rulings on this issue, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has clarified the following principles:

A person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms regardless of the location in which firearm transactions are conducted. For example, a person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms even if the person only conducts firearm transactions at gun shows or through the Internet. Those engaged in the business of dealing in firearms who utilize the Internet or other technologies must obtain a license, just as a dealer whose business is run out of a traditional brick-and-mortar store.

Quantity and frequency of sales are relevant indicators. There is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement. But it is important to note that even a few transactions, when combined with other evidence, can be sufficient to establish that a person is “engaged in the business.” For example, courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place, when other factors also were present.

But note that it’s not just gun sellers who are impacted by gun regulation as some readers may be aware. Amazon is banning some third-party merchants from selling Nerf Blasters, marshmallow shooters, super soakers, and other toys that it had identified as a toy gun or “imitation weapon,” prohibited by Amazon’s Restricted Products policy.

Interestingly The Guardian wrote last month about an investigation in which it was able to purchase illegal weapons on Amazon UK.

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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/.