Facebook Announces Anti-Gun Initiative Against Illicit Firearms Sales
Nearly a year after the U.S. senate voted against a bipartisan bill that would have substantially changed weapon and firearm legislation in the country, gun control advocacy groups have continued pushing for stricter regulations.
The numerous groups' continued efforts, however, earned them a surprising victory Wednesday with the help of some unlikely partners.
The social media company Facebook, which owns Instagram, announced that over the next few weeks it would implement a new set of restrictions on commercial activity use of the sites.
According to Facebook's press release, "Because of the diversity of people and cultures on our services, we know that people sometimes post or share things that may be controversial or objectionable. We work hard to find a balance between enabling people to express themselves about topics that are important to them, and creating an environment that is safe and respectful."
The Educational and Enforcement Measure will remind private sale companies about complying with relevant laws and regulations through education efforts and place an over-18 age restriction to view pages of companies that sell firearms along with alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical drugs and adult-related items. It will also restrict posts indicating that a person or company would permit people to evade the law.
"We've always prohibited advertising the public sale or use of weapons and ammunition on Facebook and that will continue to be the case as well," Matt Steinfeld, Facebook spokesperson said.
The new restrictions have been met with support from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and several gun control advocacy groups such as Sandy Hook Promise, Moms Demand Action and Americans for Responsible Solutions. The groups were also responsible for lending advice on how to implement Facebook's campaign against unlawfully selling firearms on its site.
"We talked to a large number of groups representing a variety of viewpoints on this issue over the past several months," Steinfeld said. "Certainly a number of those groups came out and applauded the effort.
Steinfeld said Facebook looks at its set of community standards that apply to advertising and pages and finds ways of improving those policies would positively its community of roughly 1.2 billion users.
"What sets Facebook apart from others is that we are not an Ecomerce platform, we do not allow you to transact any goods or service on our platform," Steifeld said. "What we want to make sure we're doing is that those people are having those conversations on our services but we're doing all we can to make sure they're aware of the laws that might apply to them.
The implementation of the education initiative and regulations come months after Schneiderman sent Facebook's Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg a letter in November urging the site's creator to take steps in combating the unlawful sale of firearms and other illicit items.
"As the world's largest social networking service, Facebook is in the unique position to establish model practices in this area, including amending its Community Standards an Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which do not expressly prohibit weapons sales," Schniederman wrote in the letter obtained by the New York Times.
Schniederman wrote that numerous groups and users were promoting the sale of assault rifles, handguns and gun parts, and even negotiated prices for the sales in comment sections.
"Gaps in federal law have allowed guns to flow freely through this pipeline with potentially deadly results," Schniederman said.
According to Schniederman's letter, New York, along with 16 other states, have made efforts to close the loopholes for gun sale background checks that have allowed some purchasers to unlawfully buy a gun.
Guns For Sale is a Facebook group that allows its followers to post a description, photo and price of their firearms they are trying to sell. The group then will repost the user's ad for to gain potential buyers.
Following Facebook's announcement of the education initiative, Guns For Sale released a response, which stated, "We 100 percent support the idea of keeping guns out of the hands of children and dangerous people ... We applaud Facebook for taking a deeper look into this issue that will help make our country a safer place while still keeping our freedoms intact."
While Guns For Sale's response seemed positive toward Facebook, the National Rifle Association was singing a different tune. The NRA, who spent about $800,000 to lobby against last years gun bill, issued its own scathing statement of the initiative, claiming former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pressured Facebook to shut down Second Amendment discussions.
"The NRA enjoys 150 times more support on Facebook than Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That's why Bloomberg and the gun control groups he funds tried to pressure Facebook into shutting down discussion of Second Amendment issues on its social media platforms. Bloomberg failed," according to the statement, adding, "NRA members and our supporters will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms."
eBay, which banned gun sales in 1999, is among other websites such as Craigslist that have taken similar actions to prevent unlawfully selling firearms.
Stacey Radnor, deputy communications director for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said companies and businesses such as eBay, Craigslist, Facebook and Instagram need to step up because of Congress' lack of taking actions against gun violence and closing background check loopholes.
"This announcement that Facebook announced is really something that is a big step forward in the violent prevention movement," Radnor said. "The internet itself is a vast, unregulated marketplace where you are an anonymous purchaser. Congress, you know we haven't seen them close this loophole, and that's why it's important for a corporation like Facebook to really take that step forward.
She said Facebook's action would hopefully lead more companies complying with similar actions.
"This is a major corporation taking a big step toward the culture of gun safety; one company at a time, one legislator, one law," Radnor said. "We're going to really see other organizations follow in their footsteps. This is a measure that really will help keep Americans safe.
The months following the tragic deaths of 20 children and five adults during the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., numerous states' legislatures began drafting bills in response to gun violence such as limiting firearm magazine rounds, increasing background check efforts and banning the sale, distribution and use of military grade assault rifles.
The Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013, which had sweeping national support from the public as well as some bipartisan support in the Senate, was written by Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and introduced in early 2013 but was voted down in April, as it didn't receive the 60 votes necessary to become law.
Following the Senate vote, President Barack Obama said in a White House press conference that it was "a pretty shameful day for Washington."
Obama blamed the gun rights lobby, such as the NRA, for the bill's demise and even criticized both the Republican and Democratic parties for caving into the lobby's pressure.
The president, who set up a task force to come up guy control legislation following the Sandy Hook shootings, reiterated that, "this effort is not over."
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