Facebook tightens policies on posts for illegal gun sales


SAN FRANCISCO — Under intensifying pressure from gun control groups and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Facebook Inc. is tightening its policies to make it more difficult for people to illegally sell or trade guns on the social media site and Instagram, particularly to minors.

The giant social network will block minors from seeing posts about gun sales and trades, the company said Wednesday.

Facebook said it would limit access to posts about gun sales and trades to people 18 and older. And it said it would require Facebook pages primarily used to promote the private sale of regulated goods and services to include language that reminds them to comply with laws and regulations and limit access to people 18 and older in the case of goods such as alcohol.

Any time Facebook receives a report about a post promoting the private sale of regulated goods such as guns, it will send a message to that user reminding him or her to comply with laws and regulations, Facebook said. Anyone searching on Instagram for sales of firearms will be shown similar reminders.

Facebook also said it would not allow users to post offers to sell regulated goods “that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law,” the company said.

For example, sellers of firearms in the U.S. will not be permitted to say no background check is required to purchase a gun. They also will not be permitted to offer transactions across state lines without going through a licensed firearms dealer.

Facebook said it already banned ads that promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition and explosives. It also does not allow users to post illegal content related to weapons on its service. And users can’t buy and sell guns on Facebook itself since there is no way to conduct a transaction on the service. But gun enthusiasts can and do connect there, and sometimes make arrangements to buy, sell and trade guns there.

An investigation by the technology blog VentureBeat found that adults and children were connecting on Facebook pages devoted to guns to buy, sell and trade firearms, sometimes in violation of federal and state gun laws.

Federal law enforcement sources told VentureBeat that Facebook, Instagram and other social media services were “emerging threats for unlawful gun transactions in the United States.”

“We believe these collective efforts represent the right approach in balancing people’s desire to express themselves while promoting a safe, responsible community,” the company said in a blog post.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had stepped up their demands for changes to Facebook’s policies after recent gun arrests were tied to sales of guns facilitated through Facebook.

The campaign had begun to get traction.

More than 225,000 people signed a petition asking Facebook and Instagram to crack down on the illegal gun sales facilitated by its service. A video that was part of the campaign was viewed more than 375,000 times.

The campaign publicized recent incidents in which illegal gun transactions allegedly began on Facebook.

An Ohio man was indicted on charges that he illegally sold a 9-millimeter handgun across state lines to a 15-year-old from Kentucky with whom he reportedly connected on Facebook.

A convicted felon in Iowa was apprehended after he allegedly bought guns illegally through a connection he made on Facebook to an undercover police officer who was running a sting operation.

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, called the changes “meaningful.”

“Our campaign showed how easy it is for minors, felons and other dangerous people to get guns online,” she said. “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.”

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