Why Facebook is banning gun sales from site

The Facebook and Instagram ban applies to private, person-to-person sales of guns, and will not affect licensed gun dealers, gun clubs, retailers who advertise on the site.

Matt Rourke/AP/File
The Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad. Facebook says it’s cracking down on online gun sales, with a new policy that bars private individuals from advertising or selling firearms on the world’s largest social network.

Facebook is banning the sale of private guns on its social network, and the Instagram photo-sharing service, adding it to a list of already prohibited items including, marijuana, pharmaceuticals, and illegal drugs for sale.

The ban will apply to private, person-to-person sales of guns, and will not affect licensed gun dealers, gun clubs, or retailers who advertise on the site. The move is intended to cut down the transaction of unlicensed guns, the company announced on Friday.

“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 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.”

Facebook first took steps to ban gun advertising to minors in 2014, in response to gun control advocates who long voiced their concerns that the Internet allows anonymous parties to sell guns without background checks, and that criminals, minors, and other prohibited gun purchasers can easily obtain firearms from these sellers.

Facebook said it has more than 1 billion active monthly users worldwide.

New York Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, alongside other advocates, pushed Facebook to restrict illegal transactions, and prompted Facebook to delete posts from users selling illegal guns, including those who offered weapons for sale without background checks.

Gun control advocates cited a 2013 Third Way study  that said “thousands of guns, including so-called assault weapons, are for sale online and that many prospective buyers were shopping online specifically to avoid background checks,” the Washington Post reported. The study focused on on Armslist.com, a popular classified site that facilitates private sales of firearms and ammunition based on location.

In announcing the measures, Facebook's Monika Bickert, head of Global Policy Management, wrote that its new policy would be a compromise between freedom of speech and safety. “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,” she said in a blog post.

Facebook has not directly been involved in gun sales, but has served as a forum for gun sales, including, person-to-person sales. The company was not e-commerce site, and until recently, it was not possible to complete financial transactions on its social networks.

But last year, the company introduced new services that allows peer-to-peer payments through Messenger service, as well as a project that directs users to local businesses and services, according to New York Times.

Ms. Bickert said that Facebook’s progress towards e-commerce necessitated changes in its policy.

"Over the last two years, more and more people have been using Facebook to discover products and to buy and sell things to one another. We are continuing to develop, test, and launch new products to make this experience even better for people and are updating our regulated goods policies to reflect this evolution," said Bickert.

New York’s attorney  Schneiderman welcomed the move saying that it is “another positive step toward our shared goal of stopping illegal online gun sales once and for all.”

Gun control advocacy groups, including Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, also praised the decision.

"We're gratified that our continuous conversation with Facebook over the course of the last two years has culminated in the company prohibiting all unlicensed gun sales arranged on its platforms," said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, according to NBC news. "Our undercover investigations have shown that criminals are active in the online market for guns, where unlicensed sellers can offer guns with no federal background check required."

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