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U.S. gun website sued for alleged ties to slayings

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A prominent U.S. gun control group on Wednesday sued a gun auction website it says is linked to a mass shooting at a Wisconsin spa in October and the stalker slaying of a woman near Chicago in 2011.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence alleges that the design of armslist.com facilitates illegal online sales to unlawful gun buyers with no background checks, and enables users to evade laws that permit private sellers to sell guns only to residents of their own state.

"We as a nation are better than an anonymous Internet gun market where killers and criminals can easily get guns," said Jonathan Lowy, the Brady Center's Legal Action Project Director, in a statement.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of the family of Jitka Vesel, 36, an immigrant from the Czech Republic who was shot and killed last year by Demetry Smirnov, a stalker.

The suit, which the Brady Center says is the first of its kind, alleges that Smirnov illegally bought the gun from a private seller he located through armslist.com.

Vesel was killed in the parking lot of the Chicago-area Czechoslovak Heritage Museum, where she was a volunteer preparing for a celebration in memory of Czech-American Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.

Cermak was slain with a handgun during an attempted assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

A representative for website owner Armslist, LLC was not immediately available for comment. The company is based in Noble, Oklahoma, according to public records.

The website includes a "terms of use" page on which users must promise they are age 18 or older and will not use the site for illegal purposes.

The Brady Center said that the case does not infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, noting that 74 percent of National Rifle Association members believe that no guns should be sold without a criminal background check.

A representative for the NRA was not immediately available for comment.

Radcliffe Haughton, who killed his estranged wife and two other women and wounded four others before killing himself in a shooting in a Milwaukee suburb on October 21, also got his weapon through armslist.com, according to Wisconsin officials.

Haughton, who was under a restraining order for domestic violence, avoided a background check through a "lethal loophole" by buying a gun through the website, according to a letter to Armslist sent by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Wisconsin U.S. Representative Gwen Moore on October 26.

Sales conducted over the Internet also have been linked to mass killings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University. In 1999 eBay announced it was prohibiting online gun sales, according to the Brady Center lawsuit.

Craigslist did the same in 2007. Amazon.com and Google AdWords also prohibits the listing of firearms for sale, the suit says.

An undercover investigation of online gun sales by New York City last year found that 62 percent of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said he probably could not pass a background check.

(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)

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