Facebook clamps down on gun sales

Social media giant Facebook on Wednesday announced new policies designed to tamp down on unregulated firearm transactions over its network, earning praise from groups who see the Internet as the world’s largest gun store.

Under the new policy, Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram will block minors from seeing posts about the sales of guns and other regulated items, require pages used for that purpose to include language reminding people of the applicable legal restrictions and warn sellers they are bound to comply with those laws.

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“We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law,” said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management.

“For example,” Bickert said, “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."

The policy changes come after pressure from gun control groups Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, who gathered more than 230,000 signatures on a petition urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom to combat illegal sales over the platforms.

“Our campaign showed how easy it is for minors, felons and other dangerous people to get guns online,” Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts said. “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.”

The mayors group, co-founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also engaged in discussions with Facebook officials leading up to Wednesday’s announcement.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by shooting victim and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), and Sandy Hook Promise, formed after the 2012 elementary school massacre in Connecticut, also lauded the move.

But the groups said the corporate action should not be viewed as a substitute for legislation toughening federal gun regulations.

“While Facebook is making a serious effort to ensure safe and responsible compliance with our nation’s gun laws, we know that our laws must be strengthened,” the groups said. “Providing background checks for Internet sales is commonsense policy that allows law abiding Americans to safely exchange guns."