On Thursday afternoon, shortly after the Senate voted to allow debate on the first major piece of gun control legislation to be considered in decades, Cory Brown saw a massive spike in traffic for his website.
His site, FreeGunShow.com, acts as a kind of Craigslist for the weapons world -- where buyers and sellers can meet online and make deals with each other.
"I wanted to create my own marketplace for buyers and sellers to connect for free," he said about his site, which launched in Novemeber. "On Craigslist you cannot list anything weapon related. People were running out of places to conduct business."
Amid the recent focus on gun control reform on Capitol Hill and the deadly shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., aggressive web entrepreneurs like Brown have been quietly ramping up businesses to function as digital middlemen for the firearms market. Now, as demand for guns and ammunition has emptied shelves at many brick-and-mortar stores, these online weapon sites give gun buyers more options -- and allow them to sometimes skirt background checks.
Sites like Brown's offer two types of sales -- those with dealers who have a federal firearms license and must conduct background checks, and sales that are private and have little oversight for background checks. Brown said that the majority of sales conducted through his site are with federally licensed dealers, but that around 5 percent of sales are private.
On Capitol Hill this week, senators agreed to a bipartisan deal on background checks for guns, which would expand checks on all Internet sales. But Brown said he doesn't think it would have a big impact on his business.
"Currently (with existing state laws) I think most sellers figure out what their state requires and follow that process for transfers in-state and out-of-state transfers," he said.
Another recently launched gun marketplace called GunCycle.com operates more like eBay, letting sellers auction off firearms and related merchandise. Owner Bob Ralph earns money by taking a small percentage out of each final transaction. He said he closed a police gun shop in 2011, but saw an opportunity to make guns available to what he called "average Joes."
Ralph said he's not worried about illegal sales being conducted privately through sites like his, since most transfers on his site have to go through dealers with federal firearms licenses.
But gun-control groups say that third-party platforms only make it easier to conduct private sales. In December, the gun-control lobby group the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence launched a wrongful death lawsuit against Armslist.com, another marketplace website open since 2009. It is the first lawsuit of its kind to target an online weapons seller, claiming the website enabled a gun purchase that would have been illegal in a brick-and-mortar store under state law.
Neither Brown nor Ralph said they are concerned that the lawsuit -- or even the renewed debate over gun control laws -- will put an end to their businesses.
"Federal laws won't change anything in the marketplace," Brown said. "The people who are not doing [background checks] are already criminals."