Facebook's Gun Policies Under Fire Following Las Vegas Shooting

Brady Campaign slams Facebook for failing to follow other major social media companies in prohibiting gun sales

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The shooting in Las Vegas sparked controversy nationwide about how Facebook handles posts about guns. News4's Pat Lawson Muse has more on that. (Published Tuesday, Jun 10, 2014)

    Facebook has come under fire in the wake of a June 8 shooting at a Las Vegas shopping mall that left five dead.

    That's because Jerad Miller, one of two suspects in Sunday's shooting, had posted on Facebook that he was trying to purchase firearms prior to the shooting, according to Think Progress.

    Miller had an extensive criminal record that made buying a gun legally impossible. His wife Amanda was prohibited from purchasing a gun legally as long she lived in the same house as her husband, Think Progess reported.

    But critics -- including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence -- say Facebook allows people who couldn't buy a gun in a store to buy them from an individual, with little regulation.

    "Facebook makes it easy for dangerous people to get guns," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who was in D.C. this Tuesday for the group's annual summit.

    At issue is whether or not Facebook should allow individuals to post either a request to buy a gun from another Facebook user or an offer to sell one.

    The social media site allows those posts, though it says users should say background checks are required if state law requires them. Also, the posts are supposed to be limited to users over age 18, and Facebook does not allow paid advertising for guns.

    But, Gross said, other sites are more strict. Craigslist prohibits all weapons sales. EBay won't allow listings for firearms -- only parts and accessories, and those listings have limitations.

    "Ironically, [Facebook] prohibits paid advertising for guns, which would mean that people in a lot of cases would have to get background checks, but they allow private sales of guns which means people never have to get background checks," Gross said.

    Gross called Facebook's March announcement that they would be taking steps to regulate gun sales "woefully inadequate" to stop what the New York Times has called one of the world's largest marketplaces for guns.

    “This [shooting] is a demonstration of just how inadequate" Facebook's steps are, he said.

     A Facebook spokesperson responded to the controversy surrounding Miller's post, saying, "While this online discussion is certainly disturbing in light of recent events, we have not been made aware of any connection to an actual gun transaction offline.”

    Gross says that prohibiting the sale of guns through social media could not only help stop mass shootings, but also daily gun violence in America.

    “On an average day in America, 85 to 90 people will die because of a bullet," he said. "And the fact is there are solutions that exist, whether they are solutions to these mass shootings or solutions to the everyday shootings, and the American public supports those solutions."

    A search on Facebook reveals that gun sales groups are still active on the site.

    Although pages like "Guns for Sale" suggest that a background check "may be required," the majority of posts do not indicate that one is necessary. Many sellers provide personal e-mails or numbers to text with inquiries.

    "Guns for Sale" posted an apology on June 1 for their "lack of guns for sale lately," saying they "have some new guidelines... and are working on being completely compliant with the Facebook's firearm related regulations."

    Following this post, the group advertised several guns for sale by private sellers. None of the posts indicated that a background check was necessary. Several provided private numbers to contact sellers.

    Facebook defends its policies, and says they remind users to behave responsibly.

    "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," said a spokesperson.

    But for Gross, there is one way to ensure Facebook changes its ways.

    "We...need to keep the heat on... We need to let Facebook know that we’re watching them," he said.