Facebook announced Wednesday it will take steps to prevent illegal firearms sales across its platforms, following calls that the company increase oversight as an increasingly popular vehicle for gun sales. After Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America launched a petition that drew more than 230,000 supporters, Facebook began working with anti-gun violence advocates to develop its policy on firearms sales.
The new policy means Facebook will actively block buyers and sellers who do not intend to conduct background checks, prohibit users under age 18 from viewing gun sellers’ posts, and delete reported posts of potential sales across state lines. Facebook also will require gun pages, like Guns For Sale (which has 200,000 followers), to prominently explain that sellers and buyers must comply with local laws. Now, Facebook “will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law.”
Without any explicit policy on firearms sales before Wednesday, Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram have become a destination for people looking to buy guns without background checks. But moving forward, when someone searches on Instagram for a gun to buy, like the hashtag guns4sale, he will receive a warning before viewing the results.
Facebook now joins other websites including Amazon, Craigslist, and Google that have restricted online gun sales without background checks. Still, the companies seeking to curb online sales have found it difficult to enforce, leaving a vast number of options for people with criminal records to bypass background checks. Proposed gun violence reform last year would have addressed the loophole in federal law that does not require background checks from unlicensed private sellers. Each year, 25,000 guns are illegally sold on the Internet to buyers with criminal records, according to a Mayors Against Illegal Guns estimate. A New York investigation also revealed that 62 percent of online sellers agreed to sell to an illegal buyer, and yet another study found that every 30th gun sale on Armslist was illegal.
“We are happy that these companies listened to American mothers and we believe these changes are a major step toward making sure people who buy or sell guns on their platforms know the law, and follow it,” Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts said in a statement. “Moms are particularly pleased that Facebook will block minors from seeing posts about gun sales or trades, and that we can be confident that these social networks will be safe spaces for our kids.”