AOL CALLS GUNS PORNOGRAPHY
The following article appeared in the Shotgun News magazine -
AOL Calls Guns Pornography
A SHOTGUN NEWS columnist found himself put in the smut merchant category by
the Internet colossus.
By Bill Clede
Jim Supica, a SHOTGUN NEWS columnist familiar to readers of this
publication, operates Old Town Station Ltd., a dealer in antique and
collectable firearms. He holds a Federal Firearms License for this purpose.
In short, he runs a clean, above-board, and legal business.
That is, he thought he did until America Online (AOL) summarily removed his
web site from their system and sent email to his account address, which is
shared by his wife and children.
AOL wrote, “We have become aware of a web page site that is part of your
account. This web page violates Hometown AOL’s Community Standards, which
prohibits sexually explicit graphics, links to other sites which Hometown
deems offensive, harassment, the use of vulgar or sexually oriented
language, discussion of illegal activities, and/or other activities that may
impair the enjoyment of our community’s members.
“We have placed a note of this incident on your account history and consider
this a first warning. We have removed all the file(s) from your web page/ftp
site. A second occurrence will result in termination of your account with no
chance of reactivation.”
Huh? I looked at Jim’s site, now housed at www.armchairgunshow.com, and the
only obscene thing I saw were the four-figure prices these guns carry. I am
not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but calling an innocent person a
pornographer sounds a lot like libel to me.
“I’ve heard from other dealers who got the same form letter and no-warning
boot from AOL,” Supica said. “I got a bunch of emails from litigious types
who suggested a lawsuit, plus an equal number from folks saying AOL has a
right to edit their service as they see fit.”
He’s right there. Services such as America Online, Microsoft Network,
Prodigy and CompuServe are not common carriers, nor publications in and of
themselves, although they provide the means by which others publish web
sites and periodicals.
At about the same time as Jim’s site was scrubbed by AOL, he got a message
in CompuServe’s Firearms Forum that CompuServe had decreed the sale of
firearms, even the legal sale of firearms, would no longer be allowed on the
system. GoOutdoorsGroup Administrator Tony Mandile said, “The move was
basically CYA. Obviously a headline reading, “Student Kills 10 With Online
Purchase” wasn’t something their legal department would like to see.”
When I asked CompuServe what they had actually said, they refused to
comment. They referred me back to the Forum Administrator.
You should know that CompuServe is owned by AOL, but is operated separately.
Yeah, right! Since these services are private businesses they have the right
to conduct their business as they see fit. I think Tony Mandile is entirely
The radio station I used to work for has a Sunday “Tag Sale” program for
years. They prohibit automobiles and devote one whole show every couple of
months to nothing but automobiles. They prohibit firearms and do not
dedicate a special show to guns. Preston Spaulding of Knoxville, Tenn.,
tells me his local newspaper refused his classified ad when he tried to sell
his gun. Gary Connor held a garage sale and the Seattle Times refused his ad
that mentioned a handgun.
The two daily newspapers in Madison, Wis., will no longer accept classified
ads for gun from anyone other than a licensed dealer. I wrote a newspaper
column several years ago reporting how the National Rifle Association was
refused in many of the print media when they tried to buy space for their
We all know there are people with rabidly anti-gun ideas. That is their
right. But it is not their right to force their beliefs onto others or to
interfere with the transaction of legal business. The National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and State of New York are
reported to be suing the firearms industry for not controlling the
distribution of their products. But to do so is called “restraint of trade”
and is illegal.
As for Supica, “I mainly want to get on with my business with the least
possible hassle. AOL’s decision to dump gun dealer sites did not bother me
as much as the manner in which they did it.”
You know from this column that there are literally thousands of web sites
dealing in guns on the World Wide Web. I didn’t think this blatant
censorship exists on the Internet.
John R. Clarke of Thomasville, Ga., is in the business of developing and
maintaining web sites. His is at www.outdoorwriter.com/. As the developer of
The Ballistic Program in 1986, guns are his specialty. He said, “I am not
aware of any Web Presence Provider dumping a firearms web site because of
its firearms content. However in this day and time anything is possible.”
But it has happened. Rob Robles of Morgan Hill, Calif. touts his web site as
the place for serious gun collectors at www.antiqueguns.com. His site is on
a new server. He sends notices to some 3,800 people who have asked to be
included on his mailing list, just as I do.
“Suddenly my domain was turned off by my Internet service provider,” he
said. “They had received a complaint that I was sending out Spam. This
company figured I was out advocating the use of illegal weapons, and simply
will not listen to anything I say. They have not looked at the letter I sent
and have not looked at my site to see what I am selling.
“My mailing was perfectly legal, it had a statement telling people that they
could respond and be removed. I was in shock. What kind of idiot would
completely shut down a legitimate business because of a complaint? They
would not even let me talk to them and explain my side, I was completely
It’s only conjecture what the company’s response might have been had Robles
been selling religious icons.
The left panel of Robles’ auction area categorizes guns so you can focus
your window-shopping. To the right are featured items. Click on one and it
takes you to a form where you can see more about the particular item and
enter a bid, if you want. There is a search utility. Many experts will
respond to questions within their expertise.
There’s one way you can be sure your web page won’t ever be turned off.
SHOTGUN NEWS will host your page as part of www.shotgunnews.com. For more
information, see http://www.shotgunnews.com/dealerhome.dog.
By Bill Clede
Hodgdon Note: If you’re as concerned as we are, you can email an AOL
service rep at [email protected] Please don’t direct your anger at this
person, but general comments to AOL would be appropriate.
When women are disarmed, a rapist will never hear – Stop or I’ll shoot!