MADISON, Wis. — The American Medical Association (AMA) and the Wisconsin Medical Society filed an amicus brief Tuesday in Wisconsin Supreme Court asserting that the owners of an online marketplace designed to facilitate illegal gun sales to prohibited buyers cannot escape liability for human harm resulting from preventable firearm violence.
The case of Daniel v. Armslist will test the enforcement of existing state and federal laws that limit high-risk or dangerous individuals from purchasing or obtaining firearms. The Armslist website was designed with features that undermine these public safety laws. An undue number of criminal acts have arisen through firearm sales facilitated by Armslist that put guns in the hands of individuals who can’t purchase weapons legally. Armslist contends it is immune from liability for violent acts, including murder, that have resulted from illegal firearm sales via its website.
The physician brief, prepared by the Litigation Center of the AMA and State Medical Societies, contends that Armslist is not protected from liability immunity granted to website operators by section 230 of the federal Communication Decency Act (CDA). The CDA immunizes website operators who do nothing more than publish third-party postings, but it does not apply to operators who specifically design their websites to further illegal conduct.
Armslist allowed buyers to filter ad searches to find unlicensed private sellers who are not required to perform background checks on persons to whom they sell guns. Armslist did not require users to register, thereby facilitating anonymity, nor did it impose any waiting period on the purchases, despite the 48-hour waiting period imposed on licensed sellers.
“Physicians treat both the immediate and long-term physical and psychological effects of gun violence on victims every day in our state and country,” said Wisconsin Medical Society CEO Clyde “Bud” Chumbley, M.D., M.B.A. “It’s a public health crisis further exacerbated by illegal gun sales, and that’s why holding this company accountable is an important step to safeguard our patients and make it clear there are serious consequences for those who would undermine laws put in place to protect the public.”
“Physicians recognize that firearm-related violence, one of the main causes of intentional and unintentional injuries and deaths, is a public health crisis in the United States,” said AMA President Barbara L. McAneny, M.D. “The AMA and other physician organizations continue to present common sense public health recommendations with the goal of eliminating preventable firearm deaths and injuries, but these efforts are undermined when firearms are obtained by individuals who can’t purchase weapons legally.”
According to the physician brief, “it is beyond reason that one CDA provision, read in isolation (and without regard to its history or purpose), can be used to shield the perpetrators of this epidemic from responsibility.”
“Wisconsin and federal laws that prohibit dangerous people from purchasing a firearm should not be undermined by an inaccurate reading of the CDA,” said Dr. McAneny. “Physicians are compelled to urge the court to consider illegal guns sales a public health emergency. We bear the emotional weight of treating the victims of gun violence everyday: their wounds, paralysis, colostomies, brain injuries, depression, chronic infections and post-traumatic stress. Common-sense measures to support enacted laws can help prevent more carnage.”