Holding website responsible for selling guns without background checks
What are the news: The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should reinstate a lawsuit to hold the Armslist website and its owner Jonathan Gibbon liable, argues an amicus brief filed by the American Medical Association and State Medical Litigation Center Societies and the Wisconsin Medical Society (WMS). The website gives people who cannot pass the background check required for legal gun ownership a way to buy guns.
The lawsuit that the district court dismissed, Webber c. Weapon List (PDF), was filed by Sara Schmidt’s estate after her ex-husband fatally shot her with a handgun he purchased through an Armslist ad. When the husband purchased the gun, he was under a court restraining order requiring him to wear a GPS monitor, and he was prohibited from buying or possessing guns. He could not have passed a background check required for legal possession of firearms under federal or state law.
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Why it matters: Doctors recognize that gun violence is a public health crisis. Yet the Armslist website was “specifically created to facilitate illegal gun sales by people, such as Sara’s husband, who failed to pass a background check,” the memoir says. amicus, prepared by the AMA Litigation Center, adding that “this cannot be valid”. policy to favor a regime that subverts, rather than upholds, statutory law and a court order of prohibition.
AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD said, “As physicians, we often carry the emotional weight of telling families that their loved ones are being killed. We also have a responsibility to heal and treat victims of gun violence and tell patients that their wounds are forever – their scars, their paralysis, their brain damage, their depression, their colostomy and more.
“The AMA supports common sense measures to prevent injuries and deaths from gun violence, and an ideal place to start is to hold accountable a website designed to overturn the law and get dangerous weapons into the hands of of dangerous people,” added Dr. Harmon, a family. doctor in South Carolina.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissed the lawsuit, saying the Armslist website and its owner’s dereliction of duty were not a ‘substantial factor’ in the cause of the murder and that the policy Wisconsin public barred the claim because “the injury was too remote and disproportionate to the driving. The trial court also said allowing a claim to proceed “would impose an unreasonable burden on Armslist.”
The AMA Litigation Center and WMS brief tells the appeals court that the district court got it wrong. Allowing recovery against Armslist, they argue, is entirely reasonable.
“Armslist makes its money by catering to those who want to avoid the rigors of background checks. Deterrence in this case is a critical consideration: Armslist should be deterred from operating with such disregard for the public,” the brief states. “Forcing Armslist to internalize the costs of its dangerous business model is entirely consistent with the accepted role of tort law.”
Further, the brief states that “given the serious dangers to public health that arise from the proliferation of illegal weapons and considering the foreseeable consequences of the design of the defendants’ website, it would not have unduly required them to do the modest adjustments – as stated in the complaint – necessary to protect against illegal sales and keep the website on the right side of the law.
Additionally, the memoir argues that the Armslist website was a “substantial factor” in the murder. Schmidt’s ex-husband, imprisoned for domestic violence, was released on January 5, 2018. On the same day, Schmidt filed for divorce. Three days later, the husband “purchased the gun illegally, through a gun list advertisement intended to evade legal restrictions on such sales.”
“It was a crime of passion,” the memoir reads. “In fact, Sara’s husband should never have had access to a gun, but even if the gun had simply been less readily available, he could have calmed down and the crime would never have happened.”
Learn more: The AMA and WMS also filed an amicus brief in an earlier case, Daniel v. Armslist, brought against the online gun market. The United States Supreme Court ruled in this case that the site was protected by the Communications Decency Act.
Learn more about the cases in which the AMA Litigation Center provides assistance and learn more about the Litigation Center’s case selection criteria.