Facebook aims to limit firearms sales on its sites

03/05/2014 6:01 PM |
(Credit: Facebook Screen Shot)

(Credit: Facebook Screen Shot)

Social networking giant Facebook has vowed to help put a stop to illegal gun sales initiating on its social media sites, officials announced at a press conference Wednesday.

Facebook, which also owns the picture sharing platform Instagram, has agreed to remove posts by users who are trying to skirt gun laws and sell firearms illegally, said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management. 

The networking site will also try to educate law-abiding firearm sellers how to go about doing it legally, she said, while aiming to prevent minors from viewing posts about the sale of firearms.

Users have been known to post advertisements promoting guns for sale while others search through those posts — using the platforms to negotiate sales in the comments, said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who worked with Facebook officials and gun safety activists to develop the site’s new firearms policy.

Law enforcement agencies and gun safety advocacy groups, including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, will play a watchdog role, reporting posts and groups promoting the illegal sale of firearms to the social networking site, Mr. Schneiderman said.

Facebook will then block such reported posts, Ms. Bickert said.

One local gun retailer said she supported the measure.

“If [the policy] is keeping guns out of the wrong hands, I believe that’s a good thing,” said an owner of Edwards Sporting Goods of Riverhead, who asked to be named only as Diane.

The sporting goods store is once of only a few firearm dealers spanning the North Fork.

A recent campaign aimed at understanding social media’s role in the trafficking of illegal firearms exposed how simple it is for dangerous people to get their hands on guns, according to John Feinblatt, Chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“Unfortunately, the ‘private sale loophole’ allows anonymous parties to sell guns without background checks, and there are simply too many ways for criminals, minors and other prohibited gun purchasers to get them easily – with just the click of a mouse,” said John Feinblatt, Chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Mr. Feinblatt said it is estimated about 6.6 million sales take place without background checks each year, adding that 15 states, including the District of Columbia, require background checks before gun sales. The sale of firearms across state lines is illegal, unless done by a federally licensed dealer.

Using a keyword search for “guns,” several groups popped up including one named “Guns For Sale,” described as a place for sellers to post photos and information about firearms they were wishing to sell.

The new guidelines are not meant to impede on one’s freedom of speech, Mr. Schneiderman said, but will educate users of the laws surrounding gun sales.

“Responsible social media sites know that it is in no one’s interest for their sites to become a 21st century black market in dangerous and illegal goods that place our families and communities at risk,” he said.

“If you’re buying or selling guns, you will now know how to do it the right way — you have to follow the law,” he added. “If you are trying to do it illegally people will be watching, and will report you.”

cmiller@timesreview.com