Shopify CEO Deletes Free Speech Commitment as Company Purges Gun-Related Retailers

Shopping platform declares free speech ‘too idealistic and functionally unworkable,’ bans nearly all gun sales

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August 15, 2018

The CEO of major online retailing platform Shopify deleted a post detailing the company's commitment to free speech this week as the company began purging gun-related retailers.

Tobias Lutke, founder and CEO of Shopify, deleted a 2017 post titled "In Support of Free Speech" and republished it with an addendum in a new post, "In Support of Free Speech (Updated)." In the new post, Lutke declared the company's previous commitment to allowing retailers to use the platform so long as they did not violate any laws because of the brand's dedication to the principle of free speech "too idealistic and functionally unworkable on the fast moving internet." Instead, he said Shopify would no longer remain neutral on products legally sold through its platform and instead "will have to make decisions based on judgement." The company did not elaborate on how it will make those judgements or respond to questions on their decision-making process or which of their more than 600,000 storefronts may be at risk of having their businesses shuttered.

"Solely deferring to the law, in this age of political gridlock, is too idealistic and functionally unworkable on the fast moving internet," wrote Lutke. "The legislative process is no match for the realities of the internet and has ground to a halt on contentious issues. Some of those issues, such as hateful content, remain legally undefined. Others are legally addressed for a physical world, but pose different and more complicated risks on the internet. So we have found ourselves in a position of having to make our own decisions on some of these issues. And along the way we had to accept that neutrality is not a possibility."

Lutke said that while Shopify is going back on its commitment to free speech, he still "stand(s) by the philosophy" of the original standard but did not expand on what that meant in practice.

Last week Shopify deleted the long-standing account of 3D-printed gun pioneer Cody Wilson without advanced warning or explanation. Now the company has updated its Acceptable Use Policy to prohibit the sale of any semiautomatic firearm capable of accepting a magazine with a capacity greater than 10-rounds, which includes the vast majority of modern firearms for sale in the United States, as well as a long list of firearms accessories like pistol grips and barrel shrouds.

"Shopify reserves the right to update and change the AUP Definitions at any time," a notice on the company's policy page said.

A number of gun-related retailers have announced that Shopify deleted their accounts on Tuesday and Wednesday. Spike’s Tactical, Franklin Armory, 1911 Builders, and Rare Breed Firearms all said they received notices that their accounts were being terminated and said their businesses will be adversely affected.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry interest group, said Shopify's new policy will only serve to alienate gun owners and won’t increase public safety.

"The National Shooting Sports Foundation is aware and monitoring the recent policy changes by Shopify," Stephen L. Sanetti, president and CEO of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Washington Free Beacon. "This policy update is misinformed and doesn't contribute to increasing public safety. Instead, it limits customer choice and alienates law-abiding gun owners. Today's gun owners can trust NSSF-member retailers, who offer online services, to provide them with the respect, dignity, and service they have come to expect. When gun owners support these NSSF-member retailers, they contribute to a variety of industry-driven and effective public safety solutions."

Spike's Tactical, a Florida-based firearms manufacturer and retailer, said Shopify's decision to terminate its account will have a significant effect on the millions of dollars' worth of annual sales it does through its online store, which is built on the Shopify platform.

"This decision will have significant ramifications to our business and should concern every online retailer and Second Amendment supporter," Cole Leleux, general manager of Spike’s Tactical, said in a statement. "We have invested more than $100,000 in the development of our Shopify store, which will disappear once these policies go into effect."

Rare Breed Firearms said it stands to lose $40,000 worth of investment into its Shopify storefront.

"We have spent the last three years developing the Rare Breed brand and more than $40,000 developing our Shopify site," Lawrence DeMonico, president of Rare Breed Firearms, said in a statement. "Depending on how this policy is rolled out, this is a move that could put companies like ours out of business, and we will undoubtedly be looking to pursue legal options."

Jason Davis, counsel for Franklin Armory, described the policy change as an attack on commerce in arms. "The firearms industry is under an unprecedented attack from the leading facilitators of interstate commerce that deny legitimate firearm businesses access to important structural supports of modern business," he said in a statement.

Cody Wilson, who has already relaunched the Defense Distributed online store using another platform, said Lutke's post is hypocritical.

"He felt the strange need to both violate [Shopify’s commitment to free speech] and maintain it 'philosophically,' which is nonsense and demonstrates a split ego," he told the Free Beacon.

He said he's planning to take legal action against Shopify.

"I intend to sue, and I invite others to join me as a class," Wilson said.

Shopify did not respond to a request for comment.

Published under: Guns