In recent months, anti-gun groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), the Brady Campaign and others have been putting increasing pressure on Facebook (and its associated platform, Instagram) to prohibit any online content that references the private sale of firearms.
The demands to Facebook were based on the false premise that guns were being sold illegally through these forums simply because users posted information about a firearm they wished to sell.
As we have often noted, the idea that the Internet is a vast, unregulated marketplace for guns is a myth. Gun sales advertised on the Internet are subject to the same laws that apply to any other gun sales, including restrictions on shipping and interstate sales, background checks for dealer sales, and penalties for persons transferring guns to others they know or have reason to believe are prohibited from having them.
Brady and MAIG, however, are eager to stop gun sales anywhere and any way they can, so they pretend that violent criminals are buying guns off the Internet as if they were buying socks or books. What they don't like to admit is that guns are lawful, constitutionally-protected products, and being able to discuss and depict them online is a matter of free speech.
In response to the pressure from the antigun groups, Facebook released a new policy statement concerning the "private sale of regulated items."
Facebook's amended policy consists of these four measures:
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.
This measured response, which takes into account the speech rights of law-abiding gun owners, is a welcome alternative to the extreme actions taken by other large Internet entities such as Craigslist and Google.
Gun owners should be aware that there are already some false media reports about this new policy, with some claiming that Facebook banned offering firearms for sale on its pages. This is incorrect. In fact, the Brady Campaign issued this statement, criticizing Facebook's new policy. That itself should indicate to gun owners that Facebook is taking a more measured approach than other online platforms.
By taking both the First and Second Amendment rights of it users into account with its new policy, Facebook has shown respect not only for our constitutional freedoms but also for its millions of users. Brady's stance is grounded in an obvious mistrust of (if not outright disdain for) the millions of ordinary people who populate the online universe. Fortunately, Facebook sees its users differently.
For gun owners, it is vital that any offer to sell or trade a firearm, regardless of the medium used, carefully follows all applicable laws.
Thanks to this approach, NRA members and our supporters will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms.