EBay waffles on guns as debate over assault weapons continues

The online auction and shopping website has gone back and forth on its gun policy over the last 16 years. Here are the significant events that influenced how eBay deals with sellers posting guns and gun parts.

1999

EBay draws a line

EBay prohibits the sale of guns and ammunition but continues to allow the sale of gun-related items and parts. EBay communications director Kevin Pursglove told The Washington Post at the time: “We’re not questioning the right of any individual to sell guns. We just felt that, for the kind of community we’re trying to foster, these were not appropriate items.”

2004

Flood gates open

The federal assault weapons ban expires, clearing the way for a rapidly growing gun parts market fed by demand for the highly customizable AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

2007

Virginia Tech shooting

EBay confirms that the shooter who killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech earlier in the month purchased magazines he used during the killing spree on eBay.

2007

EBay takes stronger stance

EBay announces that it will “prohibit listings of any firearm part that is required for the firing of a gun” as it attempts to distance itself from the Virginia Tech tragedy.

2011

EBay changes its mind

EBay quietly ends its ban on firearm parts. A company spokeswoman said eBay decided to reverse its policy “to give sellers opportunities to offer more products in the hunting category.” Complete guns remain prohibited.

2012

Sandy Hook shooting

After 26 people were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, lawmakers attempt to introduce new legislation to ban guns like the AR-15 used by shooter Adam Lanza. Sales of the gun surge; the proposed legislation is dropped three months later by Democratic congressional leaders, who say they were fearful its inclusion would block the passage of other gun-related legislation.

2013

EBay steps up enforcement

EBay removes listings for certain gun parts, sending messages to sellers explaining the company’s policy on assault weapons: “Keep in mind that any listing for an item that’s described as a part or an accessory for an assault weapon will be removed. Even if an item doesn’t attach to an assault weapon, you still can’t list it on eBay.” An eBay spokeswoman later confirms that many messages were sent out around the same time but won’t specify when the company first started reminding sellers of the policy.

2014

A call to arms against arms

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., issues a news release calling for renewal of the assault weapons ban. Experts who studied the law, however, say it did little to curb gun violence.

2015

Loophole exposed

Reveal identifies hundreds of gun parts on eBay that violate the company’s current firearms policy, which bans the sale of “parts or accessories for assault weapons.” The day the story is published, eBay removes the prohibited items and shuts down the account of a Nevada-based gun parts dealer who openly discussed with Reveal how he had managed to repeatedly list AR-15 parts.

Source: Reveal research