Facebook announced on Friday a change in its policy regarding private gun sales on the social networking site and on its photo-sharing platform Instagram, leaving some users up in arms.
Users of Facebook and Instagram will no longer be allowed to offer and coordinate private gun sales on the website as the company adds firearms to its list of regulated goods, which already prohibits users from offering marijuana, pharmaceuticals, and illegal drugs for sale.
Previously in March 2014, Facebook restricted access to users 18 and older those posts, pages and groups used primarily for promoting private gun sales, prohibited sales across state lines and use of language such as “no background check required.”
“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 Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Product Policy.
The policy change affects only “peer-to-peer” or private gun sales, not firearms sold in stores or off Facebook through online, licensed retailers. Licensed firearm retailers may still post about their goods and services on Facebook while completing sales transactions outside Facebook.
Some gun owners and enthusiasts opposed to the policy change vented in Facebook posts, seeing it as a restriction of their rights and vowing to stop using Facebook altogether.
Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to conduct background checks on prospective buyers, but does not require private sellers to do so. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, eighteen states have gone beyond federal law to require permitting or background checks on at least some private gun sales.
Everytown for Gun Safety urged Facebook to change its firearms policy.
“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, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “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. We’re thankful that Facebook has listened to our call and shut down a key avenue that criminals have used to avoid background checks and buy guns with no questions asked.”
A Facebook spokesperson said the company has systems in place to review and remove content that violates their policies, but did not specify what those systems entail beyond the ability of users to anonymously flag individual posts or report pages and groups in violation for review and removal by Facebook.
While Facebook users may lament the loss of firearm sale listings mixed in their daily feed between funny cat videos, photos of their friend’s kids and posts from Aunt Edna, the truth is that there are many online forums and websites dedicated to classified listings of guns for sale and trade.