SALT LAKE CITY — KSL.com will soon decide whether to keep, close or modify the handguns and firearms category of its free classified ad site, after rumors arose that the private sales could circumvent laws designed to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and children.
KSL.com general manager Brett Atkinson said KSL Classifieds will consult law enforcement and other experts, as well as survey its site users. "What we learn will influence the future of how or if we operate a firearms section on KSL Classifieds," he said.
Questions about the ad category came up as reporters from KSL's sister company, Deseret News, were interviewing sources for a story on guns in Utah. Some alleged that the wildly successful site is not only a marketplace for legitimate gun owners to buy and sell handguns, but that it has potential to be a haven for those seeking to get around legal restrictions. Several sellers also said they only sell unregistered guns, since they don't want potential problems to come back against them.
State and federal laws prohibit the sale of handguns to minors or felons, but while licensed gun dealers must verify age and run a background check, no such requirement exists for private gun sales like those advertised on KSL Classifieds. It would also be difficult to police a law banning the sale of a gun to someone who lives in a different state.
There's no evidence any laws have been broken by buyers and sellers who find each other through KSL.com, but that it could happen is troubling, Atkinson said.
"Public trust and safety are paramount values for our company. We invest significant resources into creating a safe haven on KSL.com. We have a team that works to remove fraudulent classified ads from the site. We also work with law enforcement, providing information that it subpoenas."
But with 6 million views and thousands of guns listed for sale every month, it's also clear that the firearms category is important to KSL Classifieds users, said Atkinson. KSL.com has been handling the potential for complications by placing a legal notice below each listing: "Please be advised that purchases and sales of firearms may be subject to various restrictions under federal and state laws. KSL.com is not responsible for ensuring that your particular transaction complies with applicable law, and KSL.com recommends that you seek appropriate counsel regarding legal restrictions or prohibitions on firearms sales before buying or selling firearms."
KSL.com managers candidly remind the site's users that if they can see listings, so can others, including law enforcement. Atkinson said there's a balance between protecting those who use the site and serving law enforcement officials, who sometimes subpoena information about listings. When that happens, the information is provided. And it has proven helpful to police trying to recover stolen items, as well.
"We are very proactive in helping law enforcement find goods that are stolen," said Atkinson. "Unfortunately, when you're the biggest marketplace, there's potential for problems, as well.:
A man from southern Utah told the Deseret News that drug-enforcement officers traced a weapon used in a drug-related crime back to him. He'd found his buyer online, but he had also gotten a signed document regarding the sale from the buyer, so he could prove it was no longer his gun. That's something anyone can do when they undertake a private sale. It isn't required, but it could protect you if the gun shows up where it shouldn't.
Sellers can also choose to sell through licensed dealers.
"I've sold two handguns in my life, both at a dealership," said Lt. Doug Anderson, who manages the Concealed Firearm Permit program for the Bureau of Criminal Identification in Utah's Department of Public Safety. "I paid a small fee, knowing the sale would be registered and subject to a background check."