Popular platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, aiding illegal gun sales

Filed Under: Facebook, Law & order, Social networks

Image of gun courtesy of Shutterstock. Filters applied. An increasing number of people are buying guns online, facilitated on platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, with no age or background checks required in the transactions.

That's how a 15-year-old in the state of Kentucky did it.

In October, the boy was arrested on the Greenup County High School campus for carrying an unlicensed and loaded 9mm handgun to school.

When police asked the high schooler where he got the gun, his answer was Facebook.

In fact, according to a report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns which examined online gun listings posted between February and May 2013 on popular website, Armslist.com, 25,000 guns may have been transferred to individuals with criminal records, on just that one site, in just that one year.

It takes about 15 minutes to set up such a transaction on Facebook.

At any rate, that's how long it took two Venture Beat reporters, who last week set up the purchase of a semiautomatic 7mm rifle and 90 rounds of ammunition from a guy named "Dave", a member of the Firearms Only Alamogordo fan page on Facebook.

Note that neither Facebook nor its Instagram photo- and video-sharing sites are e-commerce sites, mind you.

Rather, arms suppliers use the sites to advertise their goods and to set up chats with prospective buyers.

Black markets such as Silk Road - alternative places to illegally buy firearms - operate in the dark web, typically tucked away beneath vetting processes and accessed through the anonymising service Tor.

But the places where you can get guns fast, easily and without age or background checks are here in the bright, open light of the web.

On Facebook, for example, as Venture Beat reports, a quick search will send you to fan pages that don't mince words: they include Firearms Only Alamogordo, Guns for Sale, I Love Guns, and Guns, Ammo & Blades.

Ebay doesn't get away with this, because it's a site that specifically conducts transactions.

But sites that aren't doing that part of the deal - the ones that merely facilitate gun ads and the conversations between buyers and sellers - are not beholden to federal gun law.

Multiple petitions have been started to change site rules on gun sales.

One, a petition on Change.org, calls for Facebook and Instagram to prohibit gun sales. It had garnered 93,365 signatures as of Monday morning.

From the petition:

We need to tell Facebook loud and clear that allowing gun sales and trades -- which could easily put firearms in the hands of criminals and dangerous people -- is a threat to public safety and the security of our families. Other online platforms including Craigslist, eBay, and Google+ have already prohibited these sales and it's time for Facebook and Instagram to join them.

Facebook, for one, might not be an e-commerce platform, but it's far from powerless when it comes to flagging illegal activities.

Case in point: look at how it catches would-be child molesters by analysing relationships and chat content.

It seems like a no-brainer that Facebook, or any site that's facilitating illegal gun sales, should be able to turn the dials on that or similar technology until they're also picking up on illegal gun sales.

Much to its credit, Facebook is, in fact, trying to figure this out.

As All Facebook reported last week, Facebook is now in talks with groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, about the problem of enabling gun sales on its main platform and on Instagram.

Sounds good to me.

Craigslist et al. aren't hiding behind the "we don't do e-com!" shield when it comes to gun sales.

I can't see any reason why other sites should keep tucking these activities beneath that limp excuse.

Image of gun courtesy of Shutterstock.

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18 Responses to Popular platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, aiding illegal gun sales

  1. asdf asdf · 200 days ago

    I feel like you have some bad information here. most private sellers on the internet will be happy to make a transaction but will only ship to an FFL where the background check is performed before taking possession of a the gun. local sales aren't legal across state lines.

  2. JR · 200 days ago

    Hum last time I checked it was legal for an individual to sell a gun to another individual. How do you suggest an individual seller confirm the criminal history of the purchaser?

    Interesting also that a group that at its core is against gun ownership by individuals would find that 25k criminals obtained guns through one website. How do they know which listing resulted in a transaction between a non-criminal seller and a criminal buyer?. Their intel seems better than that of the NSA.

    I would have thought most criminals obtain guns from their fellow criminal friends or others in the hood. Before today I've never heard of Armslist.com, a quick view taught me listings range from laptops to motorcycles, and that many of the guns are listed for sale by pawn shops. Which in my area have to have firearms licenses and follow the laws regulating the resale of firearms.

  3. Wayne witham · 200 days ago

    I believe this article to be pure fiction.....just another anti-gun piece of Bull Squeeze

  4. Buck · 200 days ago

    We can't really blame this on Facebook. Criminals will always adapt legitimate technology for illicit use. All we can do is write filtering programs and catch them the best we can. Maybe even allow the communication to continue while feeding the police information to set up a sting operation.

  5. LonerVamp · 200 days ago

    Social media helps people communicate more efficiently? Say it ain't so!

    1) We have no idea that these VB reporters weren't being pranked by some guy or being baited by authorities. I saw no indication that they proved anything other than talking to someone online.

    2) I sympathize with gun control advocates, but what exactly do they think social media sites are supposed to do? I know you mentioned analyzing chat content, but that's basically going the wrong direction in terms of whatever privacy we have left on the site.

    That's how privacy erodes though. Think of the children! Think of the terrorists! Think of the illegal whatever!

  6. Jeff Bastian · 200 days ago

    It is rough living in a constitutional republic with a Bill of Rights which specifically says that Congress shall not infringe when it comes to bearing arms. You have to trust having an armed citizenry around and it is convenient to have when you have a distrustful government which records everything that you do such as this posting.

  7. Lisa Vaas · 200 days ago

    It's not as if Facebook isn't already analyzing the content. As I said, if you look to that article I linked to, about how they're catching would-be child molesters via analysis of how likely an XX-year-old would be chatting with a minor who's not already within their networks, then it begs the question, how far a stretch is it to analyze links between minors, for example, and fan pages that are explicitly set up to sell firearms?

    I don't know how a site such as Facebook addresses the issue, but based on our knowledge of how they deal with child molesters, it doesn't seem like an insurmountable problem. Of course, as the petition mentions, other sites have dealt with the issue, so Facebook can certainly look to them to figure out how it's best done.

    • Mark · 200 days ago

      What you are missing Lisa is that THERE IS NO PROBLEM for Facebook to fix. It is illegal to sell a gun to 15 year old Facebook or not. There is also a vast difference between using Facebook to prey on children and it being used for legal purposes such as private gun sales. I am sure plenty of the yard sale pages on Facebook move stolen goods, moreso than the gun trader pages sell guns to criminals.

      Seems you have a problem with how legal gun sales take place between individuals more than you have a problem with these pages on Facebook.

      • Blake · 199 days ago

        I think the comparison would be more precise if you said it is legal to use Facebook to meet people to date but illegal to use to prey on children. Legal to use Facebook to sell guns in a legal manner and illegal to use it for illegal gun sales. The reason you did not though is then Facebook would use their technology to combat illegal gun sales. I wonder why you would not want that? To keep people safe? To keep our children safe? And to protect our gun rights? Why would you not want that?

  8. GunOwner · 200 days ago

    Mayors Against Illegal Guns is the organization that listed the Boston Marathon bomber who was shot by police as a "victim of gun violence". Anti-gun groups and individuals are not known for letting the truth get in their way.

  9. Gerald · 200 days ago

    It is too easy to vilify the weapon and not the action. The term unlicensed gun is used to make the weapon seem bad. It is not the law to license a weapon. The only law this kid broke was carrying the pistol on a school campus, (loaded or not) and the method of purchase (selling to a minor); both of which carry a heavy penalty. The involvement of facebook is great press and is a passion play for a good story. I feel it is being used again to malign gun ownership. The fact of the matter is that criminals will obtain weapons anywhere. It doesn't matter how or where, they are criminals that's what they do.

    • Blake · 199 days ago

      A fifteen year old high school student hardly fits that description. If you aren't a criminal and you aren't mentally ill why are you so worried about background checks being done?

      • Gerald · 199 days ago

        The fail happened with the seller. Any law biding citizen in their right mind would not sell a firearm to a minor, In order to even start the process you have to be 18 yrs or older. I said nothing about background checks. Unless you have a concealed weapons permit a background check must be performed, IF you are purchasing from a licensed dealer. If you are doing a private sale then you should obtain proof of id just to protect yourself if nothing else because if the gun you sold is used in a crime, you are liable and in some instances be considered an accomplice. Again, a story like this preys on the fears of those who think guns are the problem. We don't have a gun problem, we have a mental health problem.

  10. The last I checked, the only guns the "Mayors" are targeting are the legal ones. Just because these groups assert that private transactions are illegal does not make it so. This author has obviously just read the press releases (read "hysterical rants") from these gun control groups and regurgitated the content onto this page without the faintest understanding of existing gun laws. The "Mayors" should retool their name to what they really are": "Mayors wanting to make Guns Illegal".

  11. Dave B in Toronto Canada · 199 days ago

    First, know that I live in Canada, and don't like weapons available freely.

    Having said that, stopping up free speech one site after another won't work. You'll simply make it harder, and only temporarily.

    What happens once these buyers and sellers adopt a code, such as Sarcasm? For those who don't understand, it means saying the opposite of what you mean.

    It will be very hard to Indict people for saying things like, "..don't bring any guns to our meeting at Dunkin Donuts." And "of course, I only sell to people who have the proper documentation. Be sure to bring it with you."

    • Gerald · 198 days ago

      First, know I am from the United States, and I like weapons available freely. You bring up a very important point. The criminal element will always find a way to accomplish their objectives. They do not care about the law. Taking away rights from those who care only enables the criminals to have the upper hand and makes law abiding citizens suffer and pay for what the law breakers are doing. I think you nailed it.

  12. John Q. Smith · 198 days ago

    The real issue here is not the rabid anti gun bias of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action, or even guns that "MAY" have been transferred. The more sinister issues here are data scraping, dubious scientific methodology, and their unbridled effort to use personal bias to influence the Web.

  13. Larry · 198 days ago

    Seems to me that the problem stems from kids being on Facebook in the first place. If the parents are NOT going to monitor what this kids are doing on Facebook then perhaps Facebook needs to ban kids from using their service all together. This would solve the problem of bullying, suicides, stalking, child molestation and now...."Illegal" Gun Sales to minors. In regards to the generalization of "Criminals" buying guns...define criminal. You're casting a pretty large net with that statement. Should someone that has a "criminal" record for peacefully protesting be banned from exercising their 2nd Amendment Rights? Or maybe someone arrested for j-walking? And what about all those people falsely accused and convicted of crimes they didn't commit because they didn't have adequate representation or because they couldn't afford $30,000 dollars in legal fees. Or those that were coerced into taking a plea-bargain. And....why stop a criminal records. Why not deny someone their 2nd Amendment rights for having a bad credit report?

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.