Inside Armslist, a peer-to-peer market for gun sales

The debate over Armslist is bigger than just guns -- the site’s fate has implications for tech titans, too.


January 16, 2020

Photo: Armslist.com

You’ve probably read about how a handful of the world’s highest-profile retailers have started to limit the sale of guns and ammo in their stores. 

But did you know there’s an online bazaar where private sellers hawk them, Craigslist-style?

Let The Verge and The Trace introduce you to Armslist. Their eye-opening story about the site’s rise is relevant for anyone who cares about gun violence, and the ways information and consumer goods move online. 

A quick breakdown

First, some essentials:

  • The site’s creators saw opportunity in Craigslist’s ban on gun listings
  • It is possible to sell on the site legally — though many sales occupy questionable territory
  • That’s because sellers are required to run background checks only when they’re “engaged in the business” of selling guns…
  • … and separating the hobbyists from the small-time entrepreneurs isn’t easy

As you might expect, Armslist is deeply controversial. Law-enforcement authorities have linked guns recovered at crime scenes to people who’ve used it to peddle dozens of firearms.

1 key detail: The site’s legal-defense strategy is ripped right from the playbook of some Silicon Valley titans. Its lawyers invoke Section 230 of a law called the Communications Decency Act.

  • That’s what protects internet companies from being held liable for information published by their users
  • So the debate over the site’s fate is bigger than just guns

As the story’s authors, Colin Lecher and Sean Campbell, put it: “Seen from one angle, the battle over Armslist looks like a microcosm of the larger war over Silicon Valley power and accountability.”

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