AMA weighs in on court case against Armslist online gun market

“Gun violence is a public health crisis,” says AMA president.

An online firearms marketplace cannot escape liability when people are hurt by preventable gun violence, a national physicians group says.

The American Medical Association (AMA) and the Wisconsin Medical Society have filed a brief supporting plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the website Armslist.com.

The website is “designed to facilitate illegal gun sales to prohibited buyers,” the AMA said in a news release about the case.

“From treating patients and losing patients, and from the sheer volume and scope of firearm-related injuries and death, physicians in every corner of our country — in small towns and big cities — recognize that gun violence is a public health crisis,” AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD, said in a news release.

The brief was the latest step in years of doctors calling for measures to address gun violence as a public health crisis and claims by gun rights advocates that physicians are overstepping their areas of expertise.

“As physicians, we often carry the emotional weight of telling families when their loved ones are killed. We also bear the responsibility of healing and treating gun violence victims and telling patients their wounds are forever—their scars, paralysis, brain injuries, depression, colostomies and more,” Harmon said. “The AMA supports commonsense measures to prevent injuries and death from gun violence, and a perfect place to start is holding accountable a website designed to subvert the law and funnel dangerous weapons into the hands of dangerous people.”

In court

The brief was filed in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where plaintiffs are fighting an earlier ruling dismissing the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

The case, known as Webber v. Armslist LLC, stems from the January 2018 shooting that claimed the life of Sara Schmidt, 40, of Harrison, Wis. Her estranged husband, Robert Schmidt, purchased a gun illegally on Armslist and shot and killed his wife, then himself, according to police and court records.

Sara Schmidt’s father, Richard Webber, filed the lawsuit against Armslist and founder Jonathan Gibbon.

The federal court ruling called the incident “an abhorrent and tragic crime,” but said Armslist was not negligent in the case.

The court dismissed the claims against Armslist because “lawfully providing a forum for individuals to engage others interested in buying and selling firearms is simply too far removed from and out of proportion to the criminal act,” the ruling said.

Doctors fire back

The physician group’s brief prepared by the Litigation Center of the AMA and State Medical Societies contends that Armslist’s common law negligence was a “substantial factor” in causing the murder. It cannot be sound policy to favor a scheme that subverts, rather than supports, statutory law and the court restraining order, the AMA news release said.

“In light of the serious dangers to public health that arise from the proliferation of illegal weapons and in view of the expectable consequences of the defendants’ website design, it would not have unduly burdened them to make the modest adjustments—as articulated in the complaint—needed to protect against unlawful sales and keep the website on the right side of the law,” the AMA brief said.