The Mormon Church owns one of the most active and unregulated gun sale portals on the web, according to a national investigation released by the New York City Mayor's office.
The website in question is KSL.com, the online hub for Utah's NBC affiliate and sister radio station, which are both owned and operated by the for-profit arm of the Mormon Church. In addition to local news, KSL.com produces a popular classifieds section that reaches millions of users well beyond Utah.
The LDS connection drew little notice when Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading financier of the gun control movement, published the report in December, but an official involved with Bloomberg's investigation is calling out the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for putting "profits over principle."
"A church, like any other organization, has the right to raise money," said the person, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the mayor. "But one would think that a church would feel a special obligation to make sure that they weren't fueling a black market for a particularly deadly form of commerce."
According to the Bloomberg report, KSL.com had the third-most active gun listings of any site on the web during a 100-day period last year (2,713), coming in behind only large specialty firearm sites Gunlistings.org, and Armslist.com, and beating out even Craigslist.
But the real problem isn't the volume, the report's authors say; it's the unregulated nature of KSL.com. While other classifieds sites require users to deal only on their sites with registered and confirmed accounts, KSL makes it easy for buyers and sellers to deal behind closed doors.
From the report:
[On KSL.com] sellers frequently list their contact email and phone number, which are openly displayed on the ad. This feature makes it easy for buyers to contact sellers and arrange to buy a ﬁrearm without identifying themselves – a feature that is particularly attractive to unscrupulous purchasers who do not want their purchases detected or recorded. And the website allows visitors to search for items being sold by private individuals who, in contrast to licensed dealers, are not required to conduct background checks.
Brett Atkinson, general manager of the site, insisted that KSL is a "responsible corporate citizen" that cooperates with law enforcement, and "frequently reviews its policies and procedures."
But its own internal reviews have yielded little change in its approach to gun ads--even as local police have raised concerns.
According to an article published last March in the Deseret News,which is also owned by the Mormon church, KSL considered eliminating the firearm category from its site altogether, under pressure from state law enforcement. Ultimately, though, it decided to keep the gun ads, opting only to post a guide to gun sale laws more prominently on its homepage.
"The responsibility for the transaction is that of the parties involved," Atkinson said. "This is just like any other transaction, a vehicle, a lawnmower, a bicycle."
But the person involved with the Bloomberg investigation said KSL and the Mormon church should set a higher bar for gun ads.
"The fact that they have looked into this makes it clear that they understand they have a problem, he said. "If they have essentially decided to press on without taking effective action, it seems they've made a choice to put profits over principle."
He continued: "If you're going to [facilitate sales] for something deadly, you have an obligation to make sure it's done legally and appropriately," the person said. "Just throwing up your hands and saying, 'We're not willing to give up this profit center' is unacceptable, and particularly so when it comes from a religious organization."
UPDATE: Mark Glaze, Director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns--which is co-chaired by Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino--reached out to BuzzFeed to push back against the notion that the Mormon Church was being singled out.
“Just like Craigslist and every other site, if [KSL is] allowing gun sales, they have a responsibility to make sure they’re not an entry point for buyers trying to avoid a background check," Glaze said. "There are simple steps that can screen out bad actors, and many sites are already using them.”
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at email@example.com.
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