Dupage County Sheriff's Office
Dimtry Smirnov pleaded guilty to murder.
By Pete Williams, NBC News Justice Correspondent
A national gun control group is suing the operators of a website that connects sellers of firearms with buyers, claiming that its design facilitates illegal sales.
The Brady Center of Washington, DC filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Illinois against Armslist.com, contending that the website "facilitates illegal gun sales to unlawful gun buyers with no background checks and no questions asked."
The suit was filed on behalf of Alex Vesely of Cook County, Ill. His sister, 36-year-old Jitka, was gunned down in the parking lot of a Chicago-area museum last year by a former boyfriend, Dmitry Smirnov of Canada, who shot her a dozen times then turned himself into police and later pleaded guilty.
Federal court documents say Smirnov bought the gun, a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson pistol, from a Washington state dealer, Benedict Ladera, who advertised it on the Armslist website. Federal law prohibits non-licensed dealers from selling guns to out-of-state buyers.
Ladera pleaded guilty in March to selling the gun illegally and was sentenced to a year in federal prison.
The lawsuit claims Armslist fails to restrict potential buyers to seeing only firearms legally for sale within a buyer's state.
The website's design, the suit contends, "encourages and enables users to evade laws that limit the sale of firearms by private gun owners to residents of their own states by enticing prospective buyers to search for and find gun sellers throughout all 50 states."
Armslist requires users to advertise their firearms nationally, the lawsuit says, and "steers buyers to view potential firearms from all 50 states, including the 49 states where every buyer could not legally purchase firearms directly from a private seller."
Armslist's conduct, the suit maintains, "was the proximate cause of Jitka's death." It's believed to be the first lawsuit accusing a gun website of causing a shooting.
Private sales, such as those facilitated through Armslist, are not subject to federal background checks. The Brady Center says they account for 40 percent of all U.S. gun sales.
Craigslist and eBay have stopped allowing the use of their sites for private gun sales, the lawsuit notes.
"Responsible gun sellers and web site operators, like most Americans, recognize that guns should be sold with the greatest care, to prevent arming dangerous people with the means to kill," said Jonathan Lowy, Legal Action Project director for the Brady Center.
"Gun sellers and website operators who facilitate the arming of killers and criminals must be held accountable," he said.
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