Facebook prohibits illegal gun sales

2014-03-06 12:54
Facebook website. (Karen Bleier, AFP)

Facebook website. (Karen Bleier, AFP)

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Albany - Under pressure from gun control advocates, Facebook agreed on Wednesday to delete posts from users selling illegal guns or offering weapons for sale without background checks.

A similar policy will apply to Instagram, the company's photo-sharing network, Facebook said. The policies announced on Wednesday will be implemented over the next few weeks.

"We will remove reported posts that explicitly indicate a specific attempt to evade or help others evade the law", the company said in a statement on Wednesday. "For example, we will remove reported posts where the potential buyer or seller indicates they will not conduct a background check or are willing to sell across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer."

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman and gun control groups have been asking Facebook to implement such restrictions. New York requires a federal background check for private gun sales and prohibits sales of some popular firearms, such as the AR-15.

Virtual gun shows

His office collected evidence that some website users were willing to sell guns without background checks or otherwise violate the sales restrictions of states with tougher gun control laws.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Moms Demand Action have been pressuring Facebook to address the issue. Petitions from Moms Demand Action calling on Facebook to prohibit illegal gun sales had more than 230 000 signatures.

"Responsible social media sites know that it is in no one's interest for their sites to become the 21st century black market in dangerous and illegal goods that place our families and communities at risk", Schneiderman said.

Facebook said it will remove messages for buying or selling guns that indicate an attempt to evade the law. It also will issue advisories to users offering to sell "commonly regulated goods" such as guns, tobacco, alcohol and adults products, to obey relevant laws. It also will keep children from seeing such posts.

There's no way to know how many guns are sold via Facebook, because the transactions are actually completed offline, said John Feinblatt, chairperson of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. But such sales have occurred.

In Kentucky, for example, federal authorities in February charged an Ohio man with illegally selling a 9mm pistol to a Kentucky teenager, a transaction that investigators say was arranged through Facebook.

Feinblatt noted that Google Plus and Craigslist already prohibit all gun sales. But he said there are "really virtual gun shows" online. His group issued a report in December showing 66 000 active ads on a popular gun sales website called Armslist, up 50% from two years earlier.

The report said 16 states and the District of Columbia require background checks for private firearm purchases.

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