|By Robert Kyle
It&rsuquo;s been 20 months since eBay relaxed its gun parts policy to allow components such as triggers, barrels and firing pins as long as they&rsuquo;re not used on assault weapons. Otherwise, the only strictly prohibited part is “firearms frames, including grip frames,” according to eBay&rsuquo;s Firearms, Weapons and Knives policy.
Some sellers, however, have noticed that eBay is failing to police itself by allowing both frames and complete guns to be sold.
The frame is also known as the receiver. Shotguns and rifles essentially have three primary parts: barrel, receiver and butt stock. The receiver (frame) is where the cartridge or shotgun shell is inserted and struck by the hammer and sent through the barrel to its target. eBay&rsuquo;s policy as of December 2011 was to allow some parts of the receiver – such as triggers and bolts – but not the complete piece that would enable someone to build a gun by buying other parts, some found on eBay.
A Maryland gun and parts dealer recently contacted AntiqueWeek complaining that eBay has canceled his auctions for antique gun parts while allowing banned parts for modern guns to be sold. He said the most troubling part was a listing for a receiver with an illegally sawed-off, short barrel.
AntiqueWeek kept an eye on this auction, too. It was number 181183237968. Would eBay catch it in time?
For sale was the complete receiver of a circa 1910 .22 caliber Hamilton Boy&rsuquo;s Rifle, and its short barrel which had been cut back. The Maine seller called it a parts lot. He said, “What you see is what you get … I would guess the internal parts are fine.” The photo clearly shows the receiver, barrel, hammer and trigger.
A complete receiver alone with working parts is considered a firearm by the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. When attached to a barrel measuring less than 16 inches, the firearm becomes a “Class III” weapon under the National Firearms Act of 1934. This law was enacted to curtail gangsters from owning machine guns and sawed-off shotguns unless they registered them with the government.
The Hamilton rifle was not only illegal for eBay to offer; but for the seller to list and the buyer to buy, all without federal registration and background checks. When it sold for $47 on July 31, an illegal and highly concealable gun was released to the public, no questions asked.
Five separate bidders competed for it.
But it&rsuquo;s possible the seller disassembled it before shipping. Five days before the auctioned ended, he added this revision in large bold type: “Barrel not included it is conflicting/grey area with state local law … This is deemed parts not any thing more or less.”
His gesture to make the gun part legal was backwards, however, as the receiver is the prohibited piece.
The Maryland dealer, who requested anonymity, asserts that “eBay discriminates” by allowing some sellers to break the law by selling banned parts while canceling other auctions of antique parts. He gave several more examples of illegal listings. One, a Stevens Model 87 rifle listed for parts, had its barrel with attached receiver disassembled from the stock but the complete gun was for sale. Only a portion of the receiver could be seen in the single photo.
Another questionable gun was described by the seller as a “Double Barrel Bird Hunting Shotgun Breakdown Part Trigger Gun USA.” It consisted of the complete receiver (prohibited) and butt stock. Needed to make the gun complete were the barrels and the wooden forearm. The shotgun was identified as “The Thornward,” a house brand sold by Montgomery Wards. Armed with that knowledge the buyer could find the replacement barrels, possibly on eBay.
The Maryland seller said eBay should abide by federal law that defines antiques guns as those made before 1899; and thus, can be freely bought and sold without background checks and licenses.
“How can eBay change the definition of an antique gun to make it regulated?” he asked. “They have taken off bolts, back straps and grip frames that are antique and leave a complete Ruger pistol on. If you raise issues about it they will really come after you and remove just about anything.”
A call to eBay was answered with “they&rsuquo;re debating it,” and “it&rsuquo;s a possibility” that some areas of their gun policy will change. Nothing specific was provided.
A California seller has asked Special Agent Michael Hoffman of the Los Angeles Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to investigate eBay. In a certified letter dated June 20, the seller, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote: “(eBay) has become a very large and illegal sales location for firearms that are not going through background checks and being shipped across state lines … As a dealer of gun parts I cannot do what they do without being in major trouble. I have watched this for about six months and believe they are selling somewhere from 300 to 600 illegal frames and receivers and, in some cases, whole guns every month, which is more than a lot of dealers sell in a year … I have about 200 pictures I kept of items that were sold.”
The seller urged Agent Hoffman, “I am asking for an investigation to clean up this issue. I realize there are other sites that sell firearms, but I do not see the abuse that I see on eBay. Maybe they have just slipped through this long by good luck.”
Both Maryland and California sellers said eBay&rsuquo;s outsourcing may be the problem, as too many offshore eyes unfamiliar with makes, models and parts of American firearms are making the calls. The Maryland seller said eBay needs in-house gun specialists to evaluate questionable listings.