California has the strictest gun laws of any state, especially with regard to the types of weapons used in a recent wave of mass shootings. EBay, the state’s largest e-commerce company, would like to make it seem like it’s taking an equally tough stance on them.
The auction site prohibits sellers in its marketplace from offering complete firearms of any kind, from anti-virus weapons to Glocks. And it specifically bans assault rifle parts and accessories, which California banned in 1989 and further restricted in 2016.
But while its biggest rival Amazon enumerates a long list of prohibited items, including ammo magazines, pistol grips, flash suppressors, and folding stock – the components that separate assault weapons from legal rifles to California eyes – EBay takes a more fuzzy approach. Its market rules only prohibit “products which mention the capability of an assault weapon, even if the part or accessory is suitable for non-assault weapons.”
This language leaves a lot of gray areas that sellers are happy to exploit.
In recent weeks, as shooters embarked on deadly rampages in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, an eBay buyer could purchase a variety of products designed to make the types of weapons used in these attacks as deadly as possible. .
Legal 10-round magazines for popular assault rifle models such as the AR-15 and AK-47 could be found in various materials and designs; an “improved magazine run” intended to promote “quick, flawless magazine changes” and an olive green tactical vest to hold up to eight of these magazines at a time.
There are accessories for large capacity magazines, banned in California, including a Magpul brand coupler that contains two clips of 30 M16 bullets. “I love how you can double your rounds without having to use a drum and all the hassle with a drum,” enthused a top reviewer, referring to the type of ammunition drum used in the Dayton Massacre. .
The listings promote vintage AK-47 bayonets, although assault rifle bayonets have their own entry on EBay’s prohibited items list and improved AR-15 loading handles, allowing a shooter to cock the pistol more quickly after changing the magazine. Vendors sell barrel-mounted grips, useful for pairing with a “bump stock” – a federally banned item that allows a semi-automatic weapon to function as if it were fully automatic – and various collapsible stocks and Tactical one-point slings that make bulky guns easier to hide.
With 25 million sellers and over 1.2 billion listings, preventing buyers and sellers from finding ways to get around its rules is a Sisyphus task for EBay, akin to the struggles Facebook and YouTube face to control the market. extremist content and disinformation. In a statement, the San Jose-based company says the software systems “prevent most prohibited items and inappropriate content from being listed.” Our team also reviews content and images in more detail to address items or content that was not automatically blocked.
Yet eBay lists and profits from the sale of dozens of products that appear to be breaking its rules. Some show up as promoted results, meaning the seller paid eBay to show them high in searches. Some appear on pages promoted by eBay in Google searches, although Google has its own policy prohibiting all advertising of firearms-related products.
(Asked about eBay promotions, a Google spokeswoman said company policy prohibits advertising “any part or component, whether finished or not, that is essential or enhances the functionality of a weapon. fire.”)
And some of them are some of the best-selling items in their categories, such as the UTG Leapers RB-TPG172B Combat Tactical Pistol Grip, which as of July 31 was # 7 on all EBay in rifle parts, with 49 units sold in July for $ 10.95. (Circuit City sells the same item in their eBay store, for $ 11.49.) Click on any of them and you’ll likely receive retargeting emails for days asking you to come back to eBay and complete. procurement.
The product description for this tactical pistol grip illustrates a common way for sellers to circumvent EBay bans. On a Google Shopping listing linking to the eBay page, the item advertised as “a perfect fit for your AR-15 / M16 combat firearm.” But these gun model names do not appear on the EBay page itself, where it is instead described as a “UTG .223 / 5.56 combat sniper grip”. These measurements, 0.223 inches and 5.56 millimeters, respectively represent the calibers of cartridges developed for use in these rifles.
While there are other rifles that use them, “most people identify the .223 or 5.56 with an AR-15,” said Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Indeed, since a grip has nothing to do with the internal mechanics of a pistol, there is no reason to include these calibers except to advertise it as a product for the AR-15s. and the M16s.
Pistol grips, front pistol grips, folding or telescoping stocks, flash suppressors, and grenade launchers are features that separate legal rifles from assault weapons, as classified under California law. Under SB 880, Californians who owned a semi-automatic rifle with a removable magazine and any of these features had until January 1, 2017 to register it under penalty of three years in prison and a fine of $ 10,000. The law does not prohibit the sale of such accessories in the state.
Despite the seeming clarity of the SB 880, the difference between military-style guns and civilian shotguns is a specter, not a clear line. “There really isn’t a universally accepted definition of what an assault rifle is,” said Kyleanne Hunter, vice president of programs for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “That’s why it’s so hard to control. “
The SB 880 attempts to overcome this ambiguity by focusing on features that make rifles easier to handle up close or to conceal. But the modularity of the best-selling semi-automatic rifle rigs means they can go from legal to illegal and back again with the easy addition or subtraction of components. It makes no sense to a policy that relies on labeling specific firearms as one thing or another. While eBay sellers must use code language to list AR-15 accessories, they can openly sell add-ons for the Ruger Mini 14, a semi-automatic rifle that can fire the same ammo and be configured with a pistol grip and a foldable butt. “It becomes a really difficult proposition because it’s practically impossible to say, ‘This is only for an assault weapon,’” said Hunter.
A gap in EBay’s policy is evident in its handling of a new product category, introduced in response to SB 880, the purpose of which is to enable owners of military-style semi-automatic rifles to make them legal in making them “without characteristics” under the letter of the law. These include fin-shaped grips that prevent the thumb from curling up, making a pistol a bit more difficult to handle; muzzle brakes that dampen recoil without suppressing the flash; and fixed stocks.
While there isn’t a lot of data to draw on, Hunter of the Brady Campaign said there was reason to believe that rendering semi-automatic rifles without features through these modifications reduced somewhat their deadline. “If you look at what we think of as an assault rifle, its lethality, they’re really easy to shoot because they’re easy to hold, you can shoot a lot of bullets really quickly, and you can reload them really quickly. ” she said. Replacing pistol grips with wing grips and flash suppressors with muzzle brakes “makes it harder to fire them,” which is a step in the right direction if the goal is to reduce gun fatalities .
EBay says, however, that coins without features are against its rules. “In this case, since the item is designed for use on assault weapons like an AR-15 to make them comply with California law, it would also be prohibited under our policy,” said a carrier. word. The lists for two of those articles disappeared after the Times inquired about them.
Yet more than two weeks after eBay clarified its policy to the Times, a search for the keyword “without specifications” in EBay’s rifle category found 99 listings, including many aileron grips and of pallets, muzzle brakes and stationary stocks.
In other words, eBay has banned the sale of some of the only gun products anti-gun activists would like to see available, but is doing little to enforce the ban. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Oliva of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Like other major Internet platforms, eBay uses a self-service system that allows sellers to promote their listings against specific keywords, with an extensive menu of keywords pulled from user searches. It is a system similar to the one that allowed Facebook advertisers to target their ads to users interested in topics such as “How to burn the Jews” and “Joseph Goebbels”. The EBay spokesperson said the company regularly reviews the list of keywords that sellers can buy promotions against, as well as the list that eBay itself uses to search for buyers on Google.
Given the ambiguities inherent in defining assault weapons, the easiest way for EBay to crack down on the trade in assault rifle parts and accessories without devoting significantly more resources to surveillance might be to cease altogether. to sell products related to firearms. As a defender of sports shooters and the owner of an AR-15 himself, Oliva doesn’t want eBay to do this. But he said a policy that goes beyond the requirements of the law while being virtually unenforceable screams more at public relations than at public safety.
“We would call it ‘corporate policy virtue reporting’,” he said. “They wave a big flag saying, ‘Look how holy I am. “”