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News have been spreading wildly all throughout the web lately, with rumors bouncing around gun-related blogs and webpages, but official confirmation was released only recently: Facebook, the world's most famous and popular social network, and Instagram, the global leading service in social image sharing − owned and controlled by Facebook itself ever since the year 2012 − decided to implement new rules concerning gun-related pages, posts, topics, and pages.
The decision was taken amid pressure from US-based gun control groups, that have now been campaigning for almost two years to crack "gun-related illegal activities" on social networks, including supposed gun sales and purchases without background checks − which, always according to said anti-gun groups, would supposedly circumvent or outright violate laws and regulations and allow guns to end up illegally in the hands of minors and felons.
According to Forbes, the policy change is not going to be a crackdown on gun-related Facebook pages and groups.
In a nutshell, here are the changes as officially announced by Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of Global Policy Management:
º 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.
º 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.
º We will provide special in-app education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.
º We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law. For example, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will not be permitted to specify “no background check required,” nor can they offer to transact across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.
It's thus clearn that there's no real measure being put into place to block Facebook and Instagram users from using these service to meet potential buyers and sellers of firearms, ammunition, and accessories thereof. Instead, Facebook decided to rely on its community-sourced policing, education and public outreach on the issue, letting responsible adults to behave as such, in full compliance of the law, rather than cracking down all gun-related contents − which is what gun control groups have long time been lobbying Facebook for.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns - Everytown for Gun Safety are likely to be very dissatisfied. In the past weeks, a yet unnamed MAIG spokeswoman declared to VentureBeat.com to be "hopeful" for a crackdown on all gun-related contents on Facebook. Dan Gross − president of the "Brady Campaign" − already declared his "intense disappointment":
“I think their policy is a very dangerous one, because it allows dangerous people to continue to get their hands on weapons far too easily. As we and thousands of others have told Facebook, unlicensed gun sales have no place on the social network, Facebook should prohibit all posts that advertise the unlicensed sale or transfer of firearms in the United States. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before a gun purchased through Facebook without a background check is used in a terrible tragedy.”
Well, much to the chagrin of Michael Bloomberg, Sarah Brady, Dianne Feinstein, Rosie O'Donnell, George Soros andall other millionaires who sponsor gun control in the United States, it would seem that Mark Zuckerberg's social network has decided (at least this time!) to preserve freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the rights of law-abiding citizens rather than enact knee-jerk "sweeping" regulations out of fear of what a handful of "dangerous individuals" could do exploiting the enormous potential of Facebook, Instagram, and of the entire Internet in general.
Not only mandatory background checks for all gun transfers between individuals, or even a Facebook policy mandating FFL-facilitated background checks on all transfers made via their platform, would not work without community policing − the same community policing that Dan Gross seems to mistrust — but they still wouldn't stop criminals from obtaining firearms illegally mandated on all firearms sales, it would still be up to the community to police itself. Not to mention that said policy would have not effect on gun transfers between individuals outside of the United States, where all gun ownership and purchases require the parties to have a valid gun license... this meaning that there is no "background check" at sale, as the license vouches for the seller or the buyer.
Not to mention, Facebook is not exactly a "friendly" place for gun transfers; it hasn't ever been, actually, but rules became tighter after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of December 2012. As a matter of fact, this is what the "Prohibited Content" section of Facebook's ads policies and guidelines states:
- Ads may not promote firearms, ammunition, paintball guns, bb guns, fireworks, explosives, pepper spray, knives, tasers, or weapons of any kind, including those used for self-defense. Ads may not directly or indirectly link to landing pages where people can purchase any of these products.
- Images of weapons are generally acceptable, as long as the weapon is not pointed directly at the person seeing it.
- Ads promoting blogs or groups that exist to help connect people whose interests are related to these products are allowed as long as the service does not lead to the sale of any weapons or explosives.
The last revision of Facebook's advertisement guidelines (February 10, 2014) also clearly states that "Ads may not promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition, or explosives."
We might liquidate this new quarrel on Facebook and its gun-related policies as yet another chapter of the ongoing "Gun Control Vs. Gun Rights" battles that's been raging on in the United States ever since the Newtown shooting. But there may also be something behind the gun grabbers' frenzy against gun-related pages on social networks. In the words of the National Rifle Association:
"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. NRA members and our supporters will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms."
As all national-level attempts at gun control failed in the United States in the past two years, with support falling for anti-gun groups and raising for gun rights movements, it's clear how these successfully use social networks to organize their actions and initiatives. And that's not just limited to the United States: the case of Firearms United shows clearly how the Web can be a solid platform to strenghten the gun owners' and shooters' communities against all attempts against their rights. It's thus quite adamant how anti-gun movements may be trying to undermine our common efforts to preserve our rights by barring us all from the use of such a powerful communication tool.