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Senators urge EBay, Amazon and Google to restrict sales of assault-rifle parts

AR-15s
A collection of AR-15-style guns.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Following news reports documenting the continued availability of gun parts and accessories on e-commerce platforms that supposedly prohibit their sale, a group of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) sent letters to the chief executives of Amazon, EBay and Google asking for internal data and better enforcement of their policies.

In the letter to EBay Chief Executive Devin Wenig, the lawmakers cited a report in The Times detailing the sale of accessories and equipment clearly intended for use with military-style semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15 and AK-47 in the auction site’s marketplace, despite rules against listing such items.

In recent weeks, amid deadly rampages in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, a shopper on EBay could buy a variety of products designed to make the types of weapons used in those attacks as deadly as possible.

“We write to urge you to immediately implement stronger measures to keep guns and gun accessory sales off your platform,” they wrote. “America is in the throes of a gun violence epidemic and it is incumbent upon corporate America to do its part to help end the carnage.”

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Presidential candidates Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) were among those to sign the letters, along with Senate colleagues Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Maizie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

The senators asked Wenig to respond by Sept. 9 with answers to a list of questions about the technical safeguards used by the San Jose auction site to keep sellers from listing prohibited products and the processes it relies on to review flagged listings. They also asked Wenig to disclose how many gun-related listings EBay takes down and how many accounts it suspends per month.

The company has in the past treated that information as proprietary. A 2015 report by the investigative journalism outlet Reveal, also cited in the letter to Wenig, found hundreds of listings for assault-rifle parts for sale on EBay. When the reporter asked for data on flagged products, an EBay spokesperson declined, calling it “our secret sauce.”

“Effective monitoring and the suspension of accounts in violation of these policies is essential,” the senators wrote. “As such, I have concerns that EBay’s efforts are falling short of what is required in light of the current crisis.”

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EBay’s policies prohibit listing for sale any type of gun, parts or accessories for assault weapons and “products that mention capability with an assault weapon, even if the part or accessory fits non-assault weapons.” The state of California considers any semiautomatic rifle with a removable magazine and certain other features to be an assault weapon — a definition that includes standard configurations of popular firearms like the AR-15 and AK-47.

The Times was able to find dozens of listings in clear violation of this broad ban, including ammunition magazines, parts like pistol grips and folding stocks, and accessories such as single-point tactical slings and magazine couplers. In many cases, sellers appeared to get around automated filters on flagged terms by substituting the calibers of weapons for their model names, or by putting the names of weapons into images rather than product descriptions.

The group of senators also wrote to Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos and Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai, following a report by the Washington Post revealing recent listings on their sites for prohibited products, including a 100-round ammunition drum on Google similar to one used this month by a mass shooter in Dayton, Ohio. Both companies ban the sale of guns themselves and many gun parts and accessories, including high-capacity ammunition magazines.


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