Facebook Cracks Down on Gun Sales

Seth Perlman/AP File Photo

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

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.