Facebook & Instagram Are Banning Private Gun Sales In A Win For Gun Control Advocates

In a win for gun control advocates, Facebook will ban gun sales on its main social network and on Instagram, the company announced Friday. While Facebook doesn't provide a formal marketplace for gun sales, informal offers to buy and sell firearms on the network are common, and had been a way for purchasers of firearms to avoid background checks. Under the new policy, these transactions will be forbidden on Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, though licensed gun dealers will be exempt from the ban.

This is the culmination of a years-long debate over what limitations, if any, should be placed on firearm sales conducted over Facebook. By 2014, the network had inadvertently become one of the biggest marketplaces for guns in the world, and an investigation by VentureBeatfound that buying a firearm on Facebook could take as little as 15 minutes.

And after pressure from gun safety groups, the company imposed some small restrictions on these transactions in 2014. For example, it banned gun sellers from saying things like "No Background Check Required" in advertisements on the social network. However, many people — including both gun safety groups as well as the NRA — believed that these reforms were largely insignificant and symbolic.

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After considerable pressure from both gun safety groups and elected officials, including President Obama himself, Facebook has finally caved. Under the new rules, users will not be able to arrange for gun sales through posts on Facebook or Instagram. However, it's not a comprehensive ban. Licensed gun dealers will still be allowed to advertise on Facebook, though the transactions themselves will have to take place outside of the social network, and private messages between users won't be subject to this restriction.

"Over the last two years, more and more people have been using Facebook to discover products and to buy and sell things to one another," the company said in a somewhat vague statement. "We are continuing to develop, test and launch new products to make this experience even better for people and are updating our regulated goods policies to reflect this evolution."

One could argue that Facebook is a bit late to the game here. The network already bans sales of marijuana and other drugs, and other major websites that facilitate private transactions, like eBay and Cragislist, already have firearm bans in place. Needless to say, gun control groups applauded the decision, while NRA is almost certain to denounce it.