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Boston Police officer cracks down on online gun market in court

Armslist, an online gun marketplace, is the subject of a new lawsuit brought forward by Boston Police officer Kurt Stokinger. ILLUSTRATION BY SERENA YU/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

An officer of the Boston Police Department is bringing a lawsuit against Armslist, an online firearms marketplace, after he suffered a near-fatal gunshot wound at the hands of a convicted felon who illegally acquired the weapon through a user of the website.

Officer Kurt Stokinger had served nine years on the BPD when he was shot in the leg with a .40 caliber Glock 27 semi-automatic handgun during an investigation in Dorchester, according to the court documents. The suspect was able to fire five shots before the gun jammed and Stokinger’s fellow officers immediately applied a tourniquet, saving his life, according to the court documents.

The assailant was 27-year-old Grant Headley, a felon on probation after serving five years for drug possession and unlawful possession of a firearm, the court documents stated. Federal law prohibits the possession of firearms by convicted felons and requires that firearm dealers apply for a federal firearms license.

Yet, according to the court documents, Headley acquired the firearm from Sara Johnson, who is accused of selling weapons she purchased from Armslist to felons, drug dealers and gang members.

Armslist provides a platform for private sellers, according to the court documents, who are not required by federal law to conduct background checks.

Vikiana Petit-Homme, executive director of March For Our Lives Boston, said she thinks the dangers associated with online arms marketplaces will require a federal solution.

“We in Boston and in Massachusetts already have such strong gun laws,” she said, “yet, you’re still able to purchase something online. I don’t think there’s anything Boston can do alone. I think it’s going to have to be a federal crackdown on online gun sales [that makes] sure, when you’re shopping online for guns, there’s a screening process.”

March For Our Lives Boston is a local branch of a nationwide movement to secure gun control laws. A major obstacle to reform in the area of online firearm marketplaces, Petit-Homme said, is American cultural perceptions of firearms that equate guns with other commonly bought and sold goods.

“I think it’s very mixed up in American culture, and guns are viewed as kind of toys and just regular, everyday things,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s not just some toy. It’s something that can take lives.”

The legal complaint filed, on Stokinger’s behalf by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, argued that Armslist and other online arms marketplaces facilitate illegal arms sales and thus make possible the illegal acts that harmed Stokinger.

The lawsuit contends that Armslist should assume responsibility for enabling and facilitating the trafficking of large quantities of firearms in the Greater Boston area, Armslist should assume responsibility.

Dana Laurendeau, 52, said he is uncomfortable with the prospect of online arms markets.

“When you’re talking about illegal guns, they’ve been doing it for a long time,” the Watertown resident said. “The black market, that’s never going anywhere. That’s always going to be there. But the internet thing, that’s just scary.”

Laurendeau said his discomfort is in part due to the lack of paper trails in online gun marketplaces.

“I don’t think it should be that easy as to just go online,” he said. “They’re crossing borders. There’s no checks and balances.”

Courtney Pollard, 22, of Brighton, said she was unaware that Armslist existed and did not think it was right.

“I knew you could buy guns online, but I didn’t know that website,” Pollard said. “I don’t think it is right. I just don’t think it’s safe for you to have that easy access”

While Pollard addressed the need for further regulation, she also questioned how plausible it was to have background checks for online sales.

“Is the background check realistic?” Pollard inquired. “The local would be a good place to start. Federally, obviously, [is] going to take more time, but it’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Carlos Rios, 24, of Brookline, went even further and said he thinks buying a gun should never be easy.

“I’m someone who very much hates the idea of guns entering any neighborhood [or] any system,” Rios said. “I wholeheartedly believe there need to be more background checks. Purchasing a gun, no matter who you are, should not be easy at all.”

Rios said he thinks private gun trades need to be regulated more, just as private businesses are when their companies have a large impact on society.

“It gets a little complicated when it’s private business, because private businesses have the freedom to kind of make the rules as they go,” he said. “Some people say that companies and the people who work for those companies should have all the freedom in the world to run their own business the way they want to.”

He said that, when your business has a large effect on society or has the potential to endanger people, that becomes a bigger deal.

“Even if your pistol has no effect on society whatsoever,” Rios said, “the idea that someone could buy one online and not ever have to present a background check is a little concerning.”

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