Facebook has announced new policies that aim to prevent illegal gun sales through the social media website, following a petition campaign by gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
In a March 5 posting, Facebook says it will post language where firearms transactions are set up that "clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations." Facebook will also limit postings about gun sales to users over the age of 18. Moms Demand Action reportedly entered into "formal discussions" with Facebook in February.
During the petition campaign, the National Rifle Association's media arm attempted to discredit Moms Demand Action by falsely claiming that the group's campaign sought to ban any gun-related speech on Facebook.
On the March 4 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company host Cam Edwards said it was "true" that Moms Demand Action was moving to "ban" pro-Second Amendment speech on Facebook. Edwards claimed that Moms Demand Action wanted to ban "a conversation" and suggested that the group sought to "ban fan pages or pages related to guns and the Second Amendment." Edwards concluded by claiming that Moms Demand Action are "not just anti-Second Amendment, oh no. Apparently they have issues with the First Amendment too."
On his radio show, also called Cam & Company, Edwards claimed on March 4 that there's a "real push" on "the left right now" for "a war on the idea of freedom of speech." He added, "For the left -- supposedly espouses tolerance and acceptance of others -- man there's a lot of oppression and intolerance I'm seeing these days."
Edwards' claims greatly mischaracterized the goals of the Moms Demand Action campaign. Furthermore the First Amendment constrains the government's restriction of speech, not a private company like Facebook. The social media network is free to create policies that seek to limit behavior it finds unacceptable, as it has already done through other community standards. (Right-wing media frequently misinterpret the First Amendment to accuse businesses of victimizing conservatives.)
Moms Demand Action asked Facebook to stop the sale of firearms through its website -- not ban the discussion of guns -- because of the danger that felons and other dangerous individuals could use Facebook to participate in gun sales without background checks:
In many states, these transactions can take place without a background check. That means Facebook and Instagram are enabling people to sell weapons, 'no questions asked' to strangers. Anyone who couldn't pass a background check -- for instance, a domestic abuser or a felon -- can just log on to the social media gun show on Facebook or Instagram and find a private seller.
Indeed, 33 states have no law requiring purchasers of firearms to undergo a background check when they buy the weapon from a "private seller" instead of from a licensed firearm dealer. Internet sales are also a particularly attractive markets for individuals who are prohibited by law from buying a gun. A 2011 undercover investigation by the City of New York found that 62 percent of online sellers agreed to complete a sale to a buyer who said he or she probably couldn't pass a background check.
In its campaign materials, Moms Demand Action pointed to two alarming cases of guns being sold through Facebook. A February law enforcement sting in Iowa resulted in the arrest of a felon who attempted to use Facebook to trade an AR-15 assault weapon for a handgun. Police also reported that the man made a cash down payment for a second handgun and when arrested was found to be in possession of "a second AR-15 rifle, 17 rife ammunition magazines, several hundred rounds of ammunition and several rifle sights including a red dot, laser and magnified scopes." Also in February, an Ohio man was indicted for selling a handgun across state lines -- a crime under federal law -- to a 15-year-old Kentuckian he came into contact with on Facebook. The 15-year-old was caught with the gun at his high school in October 2013.