Facebook Cracks Down on Gun Sales

The social-media giant is stepping in to prevent illegal firearm transactions from being facilitated on its websites.

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National Journal
Laura Ryan
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Laura Ryan
March 5, 2014, 11:46 a.m.

Face­book on Wed­nes­day an­nounced ef­forts to bol­ster “edu­ca­tion and en­force­ment” for gun sellers us­ing its so­cial-me­dia web­sites, a re­sponse to grow­ing con­cerns that it has be­come a mar­ket­place where gun sellers and buy­ers can cir­cum­vent gun laws.

Face­book is not an e-com­merce site, and dir­ect fin­an­cial trans­ac­tions do not take place through its net­work, but it does provide an av­en­ue for users to ad­vert­ise fire­arm sales. Gun-con­trol ad­vocacy groups say the so­cial-me­dia sites, with over 1 bil­lion users, have made it easi­er to con­nect people who wish to buy and sell fire­arms without com­ply­ing with fed­er­al laws and have been push­ing the com­pany to ad­dress the is­sue.

For ex­ample, an in­vest­ig­a­tion by Ven­ture­Beat re­vealed that it takes 15 minutes for chil­dren or people without IDs to pur­chase a weapon on a Face­book page.

The new policy will de­lete posts that pro­mote il­leg­al sales, lim­it minors’ ac­cess to gun pages, and re­quire sellers to in­clude lan­guage about gun laws. The com­pany will also send a re­mind­er to any­one privately ad­vert­ising a gun sale — or any reg­u­lated sub­stance for that mat­ter — to fol­low the law.

“We will not per­mit people to post of­fers to sell reg­u­lated items that in­dic­ate a will­ing­ness to evade or help oth­ers evade the law,” Monika Bick­ert, Face­book’s head of glob­al policy man­age­ment, said in a state­ment.

Face­book will rely on com­munity tips to mon­it­or gun posts, rather than em­ploy­ing an in-house team to po­lice posts. In­s­tagram will send out auto­mat­ic no­tices to users search­ing hasht­ags such as #gun­sfor­sale.

Sen. Ed­ward Mar­key of Mas­sachu­setts, who pressed In­s­tagram on the is­sue last Novem­ber, lauded the ac­tion, say­ing “In­s­tagram should be for selfies, not semi-auto­mat­ics.”

The Pa­lo Alto, Cal­if.-based com­pany has been craft­ing the policy over the last year with the help of New York At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Schnei­der­m­an and the gun-safety groups Amer­ic­ans for Re­spons­ible Solu­tions, May­ors Against Il­leg­al Guns, Sandy Hook Prom­ise, and Moms De­mand Ac­tion.

In rolling out the new policy, Face­book em­phas­ized that it was not try­ing to step on its users’ free ex­pres­sion.

“This is one of many areas where we face a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge bal­an­cing in­di­vidu­als’ de­sire to ex­press them­selves on our ser­vices, and re­cog­niz­ing that this speech may have con­sequences else­where,” Bick­ert said.

The Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation down­played the an­nounce­ment, say­ing that May­ors Against Il­leg­al Guns was try­ing to get Face­book to shut down dis­cus­sion of the Second Amend­ment but had been un­able to do so.

But gun-con­trol ad­voc­ates call it a vic­tory. John Fein­blatt, chair­man of May­ors Against Il­leg­al Guns, said the move will send an im­port­ant “cul­tur­al mes­sage” to le­gis­lat­ors at the fed­er­al and state level. Schnei­der­m­an ex­pressed con­fid­ence dur­ing a press call Wed­nes­day that oth­er com­pan­ies will fol­low Face­book’s ex­ample.

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