I am sure most readers have seen the news by now that Facebook has been in discussions over the past few weeks with several gun control groups regarding gun sales on the social networking site. As a little background, Facebook and sister company Instagram have become a popular outlets for gun owners to post classified ads for firearms they are looking to move. In fact, there are several pages dedicated to firearms deals and trades. Unfortunately, there have been a few isolated cases where minors obtained firearms through contacts on the site, or people blatantly advertised no-background-check transactions almost as a selling point. While there is nothing inherently illegal about making in-state deals sans check, gun control groups such as Moms Demand Action have latched on to these ads in an effort to push the censorship of gun-themed pages.
Last Wednesday, Facebook released a statement about the issue. Overall, there are some good and some bad things that have been highlighted by this statement. A short excerpt can be read below:
Today, we are introducing a series of new educational and enforcement efforts for people discussing the private sale of regulated items:
- Any time we receive a report on Facebook about a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item, we will send a message to that person reminding him or her to comply with relevant laws and regulations. We will also limit access to that post to people over the age of 18.
- We will require Pages that are primarily used by people to promote the private sale of commonly regulated goods or services to include language that clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations, and limit access to people over the age of 18 or older if required by applicable law.
- We will provide special in-app education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.
- We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law. For example, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will not be permitted to specify “no background check required,” nor can they offer to transact across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.
We have worked with a number of individuals and organizations on the development of these efforts, which will be implemented and enforced in the coming weeks. We are grateful in particular for the advice offered by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action, which helped us develop an approach for the private sale of firearms. We also appreciate the feedback provided by the Facebook Safety Advisory Board.
So that we may close this on a positive note, I deem it necessary to first discuss the more frustrating aspects of the policy changes. On the whole, the new changes are not necessarily bad for gun owners. They are likely to keep some moronic individuals from posting reckless ads and it is unlikely that most of the firearms trader pages will be shut down as a result of the new policy. However as firearm enthusiasts, we must all be disappointed in our lack of representation during the decision-making process. Facebook highlights the guidance they received from numerous gun control groups, but makes no mention of heeding any advice from firearms groups, such as the NSSF or NRA. One would think that when making a policy decision regarding the sale of firearms, it might perhaps be reasonable to have a discussion with the NSSF at minimum, as they represent the industry as a whole and have been very vocal about the new Project Child Safe initiative. It is incredibly disappointing that Facebook did not reach out to listen to both sides of the issue.
Despite the frustratingly one-sided nature of the discussion, some good did come from it. Perhaps the most positive sign is that Facebook will not be totally removing firearms classifieds as was desired by the groups they were working with. However, it is what is less visible that should bring gun owners a great deal of joy. Although much less overt than the public statement and policy changes made by Facebook, the most critical, positive takeaway from this process is that the impotence of the gun control movement was made crystal clear. Moms Demand Action and fellow fringe groups had the equivalent of an open field against no defense and still could not find a way to score a touchdown. In the end, the whole process has the appearance of a bunch of emotionally-charged, angry moms showing up at Facebook’s doors and demanding (there may be a pun in here) an audience. In the meantime, it seems as though Facebook recognized the impressive size disparity between the pro-gun and anti-gun movements and chose not to poke the bear. Though I am not sure I would go so far as the NRA has in claiming “victory”, the predictable gnashing of teeth on the anti-gun fringe after yet another loss should be enjoyable for at least a few more days.
In closing, while it is satisfying that Facebook did not cave to the pressure from anti-gun groups, it is still unfortunate that they did not seek advice from the pro-gun perspective. Now would be a good time for readers to reach out to Facebook and any other companies who might be victims of similar targeting to remind them that we enjoy an open environment and would appreciate consideration or representation moving forward.