The online marketplace, relatively young, makes it difficult to regulate all kinds of goods. This is no different when it comes to guns. Online gun brokerage firms are abundant across the internet, available with a simple Google search. Renowned Pastor Rick Warren’s son committed suicide earlier this month using a gun purchased online. The weapon was unregistered. This provokes questions, at a sensitive time for gun rights, about the accessibility of weapons. It’s clear that it is too easy to acquire weapons online and that extensive background checks are needed to ensure that those buying the guns are mentally healthy and will only use the weapons for “adult purposes,” a phrase used in a safety disclaimer on Cheaperthandirt.com’s online gun shop.
Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, was 27 when he died. According to the LA Times, it was well known by those closest to him that he had struggled with mental illness since birth, and even attempted suicide in his past. Rev. Warren recalled a conversation where his son said to him, “Dad I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” This is a heart-wrenching and revealing statement. The fact that he was so up front about his feelings and that his medical history of mental illness was confirmed would have made it easy to conclude from an extensive background check that this man was not fit for gun ownership. Instead, he was able to buy an unregistered weapon online and ultimately used it to end his life.
After doing some brief research online, I found that it is quite easy to purchase guns online. I looked at two sites in particular, Cheaperthandirt.com and Gunbroker.com. Both sites showed up at the top of a Google search, “buy guns online”. Both sites required a registration which is free but serves to determine whether the consumer is of age in his or her state. Cheaper Than Dirt had an FAQ section, where one of the questions concerned special licenses. The site said that most of their products can be purchased without a special license because the intent of their products is for “adult purposes”. There are a few products, though, that require more extensive waivers. Both sites were peppered with ads supporting the NRA providing links to the organization’s donation site. In general, it seems very easy to purchase a gun online as long as the buyer is of age. Perhaps with more extensive research, it is even possible to buy without age verification. The details of Matthew Warren’s purchase are not known, but he was of age in all states.
Rev. Warren, famous for giving the invocation at Obama’s 2008 inauguration, has tweeted a handful of times about the incident. His tweets focus on the seller and hopes that the seller seeks forgiveness for the life he assisted in ending.
The family has seen an outpouring of support from friends, family and their congregations. They will honor their son at a private funeral.
This tragedy comes as Republicans are filibustering the Senate bill that advocates more extensive background checks. It will be hard for gun rights advocates to dodge the implications of the easy-purchasing of guns. It is important not to politicize personal tragedy, but it is also important to have laws that keep these tragedies from occurring in the first place.