Facebook connects people of all stripes to one another, for purposes ranging from keeping in touch with old friends to political discussion to even dating. But it's also become a thriving network for the sale of firearms, in which prospective buyers can find illicit guns and ammunition in less than 15 minutes.
An investigation by VentureBeat found dozens of pages on Facebook where guns and gun accessories such as semi-automatic rifles, pistols, silencers and other equipment are sold. The pages go under names like Firearms Only Alamogordo, Guns for Sale, I Love Guns and Guns, Ammo & Blades. While these groups function as entirely legitimate ways for gun enthusiasts to connect and talk with each other as well as provide a venue for completely legal private transactions, they also provide an opportunity for unregulated, illegal sales of high-powered equipment to be sold under the radar and away from the eyes of the authorities.
Here's how easy it was for VentureBeat to secure a firearm:
VentureBeat found instances of sellers auctioning off automatic weapons without proper permits, guns without serial numbers and weapons that could be prohibited by state laws. They also found that minors under 18 could purchase a handgun, which is currently illegal under federal law.
Here are a few recent posting from the "Firearms Only Alamogordo" Facebook page.
Last October, a 15-year-old Kentucky high school student bought a 9mm handgun from a man he met via a Facebook gun page. He was arrested with the firearm on the campus of Greenup County High School; the seller, who drove from Ohio to Kentucky to make the sale, was also taken into custody. That man admitted to selling other guns to people he met via Facebook, sparking fears that social media could make it even easier for the disturbed or underaged to skirt the law to buy weaponry.
A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive spokesperson, Special Agent Helen Dunkel, told the reporters: "We are certainly aware social media is being used to sell firearms, and in instances we receive information, whether through confidential informants or other means, we definitely take that seriously and investigate."
Facebook says that it routinely works with law enforcement and that the sale of any weaponry through the site is prohibited. They also reminded VentureBeat that any time they see policy violations, they deal with them, and that they're not an e-commerce platform.
"You can't buy things on Instagram and Facebook, nor can you promote the sale or use of weapons in advertising," said Facebook. "We encourage people who come across any illegal activity to report it to us."
But since coming under pressure from Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America groups, Facebook has considered changing the rules for gun-related pages. A petition from Moms Demand Action has accumulated over 94,000 signatures. It reads:
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO
Kevin Systrom, Instagram CEO
Your platforms unfortunately allow users to buy, sell, and trade firearms without requiring criminal background checks.Other online platforms including Craigslist, eBay, and Google+ have already prohibited these sales. I ask that you put an end to this completely unregulated social media gun show and prohibit gun sales from your platforms immediately.
Sign the petition here.