E-Commerce

Blurring the business line -- buying and selling on the Internet

Today, it is possible to purchase anything you want or need on the Internet. To an extent, the Internet has become the synonym of yesterday's Main Street, where it matters less if you are a retail giant and more if your name and site are easily Googled.

Eric Thompson of Green Bay, Wisconsin is a family man. He has a wife and three young children. He is also an entrepreneur. A young man in his thirties, he runs a successful online and offline business. He sells guns.

Eric is the resource that Seung-Hui Cho utilized to purchase the weapon used in the Virginia Tech killings. He also sold magazines and a holster to Steven Kazmierczak prior to Steven’s shooting spree at Northern Illinois University.

There is certainly enough to debate regarding gun control and the constitutional right to bear arms in America. Regardless of that rich, fertile ground for discussion, there are other things to consider. The point is the law, and the blurred line between the online business world and the real life realities.

The federal government, through the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) arm regulates the sale of firearms in the United States. It defines the federal rules and enforces them. Beyond ATF is the State itself, whose rules must also be obeyed. Through these rules, the Internet seller is governed.

The sale of accessories -- holsters, magazines, grips, and so forth -- is neutral. I can make my selection, enter my credit card information, and complete the transaction online. In my state of Minnesota, I can do this by walking into my local Gander Mountain retailer (about five miles north of my home) or using the online store. I can also use a number of other online stores that cater to the gun owner. High Adventure Outfitters will find virtually anything I am looking for in hunting accessories, for instance. The item of my choice can be shipped directly to my home address.

If I want to purchase a firearm, the rules change. I may make my selection online but the weapon itself must be shipped to one of 70,000 federally licensed firearms dealers, who do background checks prior to releasing the weapon to the purchaser. In my state, that means that I have to go to the local police department or Sheriff, complete an application, wait for approval, and receive a Permit to Acquire.

When I go to pick up the package (that I have already paid for), the dealer must then fill out paperwork and call the local police or Sheriff for approval to release the weapon. The dealer will then complete the transaction and, carrying the weapon in its sealed box, walk me to the front door where the weapon is released to my hands.

Or so it goes in my state.

The question really is, “What can we sell, or facilitate the sale of, online?” I like to think that if the item is legally available for purchase, I should be able to make that purchase via the method that suits me best. As I spend the lion’s share of my day in front of a computer, online transactions work best for me.

I can’t say that I would choose to purchase a gun online, but I know that I have purchased hard-to-find accessories online and am likely to do so again. I also purchase hard-to-find books online and many other things.

From a business perspective, the online presence should be an extension of the brick and mortar store or the unused back bedroom of one’s home. Either way, the Web-store is little different than the physical store.

Technology, applied correctly, can be a godsend to the local Mom and Pop storefront. Online retailing gives the local business owner an opportunity to compete with national chains. Given that we all tend to complain about the faceless “big box” retailers that have taken over smaller, family-owned business over the years, I would think that we would be thrilled to see these businesses given an equal ground. Online retailing has the ability to bring back the “Main Street” closeness in a whole new way.

That’s not a bad thing.

More information:

Gun dealer’s Rx for school shootings (Star Tribune)

6 comments
Tig2
Tig2

Today the Internet has taken the place of the "Main Street" that our parents once knew. Big box retailers can't take this space by offering inexpensive imports at prices that Mom and Pop shops can't match. But the floor for debate about this is definitely open. Consider the gun dealer. Does he have a legitimate place online? The rules that he operates under are significantly more stringent than a person selling virtually any other thing. But as long as he is managing to the rules, he should be allowed to do his business... right? Is it time to consider different rules for Internet business? Or are the present safe-guards sufficient? You must decide in this. But choose wisely.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

if some seriously mal-adjusted person bought a gun from Eric then went on a rampage that took out Eric and his family.

RFink
RFink

The biggest issue concerning online business is the states collecting sales/use taxes. I think that the transactions should be taxed in the state of purchase, not where the buyer lives. If I buy a book from a store in Ohio, I pay the Ohio sales tax, it doesn't matter that I'm a Michigan resident. The Internet should work the same way. The deeper question is: Are states entitled to tax on line sales? I don't think so because in most cases the state provides no services to the on-line seller. At least with a brick and mortar store the local and state governments provide services. As a rule if a on-line seller wants to charge me Michigan sales tax, I go elsewhere.

Tig2
Tig2

I have contacted both the seller I mentioned and another online retailer to see if they are required to charge sales tax on Internet sales. I will post back what I find out.

Jaqui
Jaqui

since the IRS forces all legitimate retailers to charge to appropriate sales taxes. The only way to not have to pay the taxes is to buy from retailers who are not based in the country you live in. oops, that only works if there is no tax treaty, or the foreign nation doesn't collect taxes for online sales.

RFink
RFink

1. The IRS is a federal agency. It doesn't deal with state sales/use taxes. 2. E-bay doesn't charge sales tax. 3. If a on-line retailer does not have a physical presence in Michigan, it is not required to charge MI sales tax. Some do and I avoid those.

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