EBay merchants still sell assault rifle add-ons despite the ban
The AR-15s are largely illegal sell in California. Thus they are high-capacity magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets. But if you can get your hands on both, you can top them up faster than ever with just $ 10.99 and just a few clicks on eBay.
This is the promise of the “Universal Magazine Speed Loader For Rifle”, a product designed to reduce the time it takes to load ammunition into a weapon magazine.
Until last week, the speed loader was available for purchase on the e-commerce platform, with free shipping from Shanghai. Fifty-nine units had already been sold.
Although it advertised the product as universal, the post helpfully included a list of firearms that could be used to load. That list consisted mostly of assault rifles, including the AR-15, AK-47, M16, AK-74, HK33, G36, and Steyr AUG. The main photo also showed the magazine being used to fill a high-capacity magazine.
This is all despite eBay’s rules to prohibit the sale of “assault weapon parts and accessories” – a policy a spokesperson said extends to “parts designed for assault weapons … although they may also contain non-assault weapons” – as well as all high-capacity magazines and any firearm components prohibited in California.
After the Times brought the speed loader to EBay’s attention, it was removed, along with eight other product listings that the company determined violated its policies.
Three more ads for the exact same speed loader remain online, with 672 units sold between them. (These lists do not specify compatibility with assault weapons but still show the tool used with high-capacity magazines.)
Under California law, it depends on whether a particular gun is an assault weapon how it is configured; the same rifle can be made legally or not with the simple change of grip, stock or other components. Determining whether a part or accessory is intended for assault weapons is therefore not easy.
In making that phone call, the EBay spokesperson said the platform evaluates factors such as the “language used in the list” and “how manufacturers market the product.”
Yet, in the midst of a nationwide escalation in the gun control debate after military-style semi-automatic rifles were used to kill a total of 35 people in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas Other Tulsa, Okla.products so obvious in their purpose as the speed loader keep slipping through.
For eBay, that’s not a new problem.
In 2019, following a similar series of mass shootings in Gilroy, California, El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, a Times investigation found objects included assault rifle magazines, folding stock and bayonets available for purchase on the site, sometimes in violation of the platform’s policies.
Partly in response to the Times report, a group of Senate Democrats sent a letter to the then CEO of eBay, urging him to oversee the sale of guns and gun accessories more forcefully. EBay subsequently changed its rule from a ban on “products that mention capability with an assault weapon” to the current and broader ban on “parts and accessories for assault weapons”.
Yet, nearly three years later, the site still hosts numerous listings that appear to violate this restriction.
Some sellers are blatant about it.
One, “AR-15 Super Slim Fixed Rear Sight – Black”, is currently featured on eBay’s landing page for “Hunting Scope Mounts & Accessories” as the site’s fourth highest rated product in the category.
Another, a Thordsen brand “AR15 rifle stock with no feature”, had a starting offer of $ 79 and free pickup available in Redwood City. (It has since been removed.) According to Thordsen’s listing for the same product, “non-functional” weapon parts that modify assault weapons to conform to state law, for example by replacing an adjustable stock with a fixed one. In 2019, eBay claimed that anonymous parties had been banned.
Other lists are more subtle.
Some don’t name a specific gun, just a category. A skull-shaped rubber ring that is supposed to facilitate replacement of used magazines is nicknamed “AR Skull Tactical Mag Pull” and multiple 3D printed couplers – an accessory that connects two different magazines together – include “AR,” “AK” or “M4” in their name. (The M4 is a scaled down version of the M-16.)
A product called the “Lets Go Brandon AR magazine coupler” ships from Costa Mesa for just under $ 20. EBay’s rules require firearm parts and accessories lists to specify the type of gun they fit, but the “Let’s Go Brandon” coupler vendor seems to have avoided this requirement by listing the item in the category for comics and graphic novels. (Contacted by The Times, the seller said eBay’s system had automatically generated the wrong category. It cleared the list.) Other items apparently in violation of eBay’s firearms rules were listed among the collectibles in military surplus.
The two-post ad pack sets of AR sights, grips, harnesses, and AR mounts don’t even specify compatibility of the AR-15, but include shotgun photos that, given the detachable magazines and pistol grips, would be illegal in California under state assault weapons ban (A federal judge overturned the ban in 2021 but remains in effect pending appellate review.) The Times asked eBay about one of these lists and it was removed. The second remains standing.
Other lists replace the technical specifications for the gun model names. Many include the numbers .223 and 5.56, which represent the calibers of the cartridges developed for use in the AR-15 and M-16. Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Times in 2019 that “most people identify the .223 or 5.56 with an AR-15”. Another frequent number is 7.62, the standard diameter of AK-47 cartridges.
While such jargon may make the listings semi-opaque for those unfamiliar with guns, equivalent product descriptions on other e-commerce sites spell things out more explicitly.
An eBay listing for a 5.56 / .223 10-round magazine manufactured by the Adventure Line company does not refer to the AR-15s or M16s. But on EveryGunPart.com, a thirty-hit version of the same magazine is clearly labeled “Adventure Line M16 / AR15 magazine”.
Many offerings of a 5.56 / .223 Colt 10-round magazine also mention no specific pistol, but an almost identical product is specifically labeled as per AR-15 at GunShowMags.com.
And although an extended version of an Armaspec-branded magazine advertises compatibility with 5.56, .223, and 7.62 cartridges on eBay, the equivalent listing on Armaspec’s site says upfront that it’s “compatible with most AR-15 receivers. “. (EBay removed the Colt and Armaspec products when asked to talk about them.)
Contacted via eBay message, the seller of Adventure Line magazine, which has since been sold, said they believe the product does not violate the platform’s policies because the ammunition it contains is popular with hunters and sport shooters. The vendor, who did not provide their name, contested the characterization of the firearms, including an AR-15 they own and use for shooting practice, such as assault weapons. “I can put a lot of things on my rifles to make them look like an assault rifle, but they will never be an ‘assault rifle’,” they wrote. (Under California law, putting components like a pistol grip or folding stock on an AR-15 with a detachable magazine makes it an assault rifle.)
Elsewhere on the site, the Times found a 7.62 muffler front cap and a 5.56 muffler end cap. Flash silencers and suppressors are specifically prohibited by eBay policy. EBay removed the front cap after The Times brought it to the company’s attention; the end cap of the suppressor has been sold.
As attempts by social media platforms to control extremist content and viral disinformation show all too well, content moderation is a difficult thing to do on a large scale. The eBay rep said the company has already blocked more than 1 million listings in 2022 that violated its firearms and firearm accessories policy.
Some eBay merchants openly acknowledge that they are trying to avoid detection.
One seller, offering .223 and 5.56×45 magazines, wrote in his listing: “You know what platform (rifles / pistol) they are for – eBay won’t let me use those words.”
An accompanying product photo was less subtle. The magazines, still in their original packaging, were clearly labeled “AR-15 Magazine”.
Someone else, auctioning off a “custom pistol grip”, labeled the item as a “performer type” grip “for the Chinese version of the gun designed by the famous Russian tanker who [sic] the name is not allowed on eBay ”- apparently a reference to the Type 56, a Chinese assault rifle modeled on the AK-47, and Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Soviet tank commander who developed the AK-47.
EBay did not answer a question about whether there is a list of specific search terms that it screens in the titles, bodies or photos of new listings, such as “AR-15” or “Kalashnikov”. Both of the above listings were removed after the Times marked them for eBay.
“It’s inconceivable that days after multiple mass shootings tore apart communities and killed innocent and American children, assault rifles – and accessories to make them even more dangerous – continue to be available online and just a click away,” Robert Menendez (DN.J.), said in an e-mailed statement.
It was Menendez who led the 2019 investigation into eBay’s handling of assault weapon accessories, in part suggested by previous Times reports on this topic.
Three years later, Menendez says the platform is still not doing what it needs to be.
“By ignoring our previous demands to enforce their policies and once again failing to control their platforms,” he said, “these companies continue to put people at risk.”