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Facebook and Instagram in Talks With Gun Reform Advocates Seeking to Ban Gun Sales on Social Sites

February 21, 2014

By Clare O’Connor, Forbes

imageTwo of the country’s most influential gun control groups are in talks with Facebook’s legal team in an effort to see gun sales banned on the world’s largest social network and its sister site Instagram.

Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America has partnered with Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns to put pressure on Facebook to prohibit the private selling or trading of guns on its platforms — a practice that’s as widespread as it is unregulated.

“Facebook and Instagram are enabling people to sell weapons, often with no questions asked and no background checks required,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ spokesperson Erika Soto Lamb.

Lamb cited a recent sting operation in Storm Lake, Iowa, where a convicted felon tried to exchange an assault rifle for a handgun via Facebook. In this case, the gun dealer was an undercover officer, and the 21-year-old felon was arrested and jailed.

“This police department shed light on how easy it is for someone who is prohibited from owning a gun to procure one using social media,” she said.

Lamb added that Facebook and Instagram would be joining fellow online platforms eBay, Craigslist and Google +, all of which have banned the buying, selling or trading of firearms without background checks.

Legal representatives from both gun control groups have to date held a number of conference calls with Facebook’s legal team. “We’re seeing how we can work together,” she said. “They’re listening to us.”

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed these recent discussions, adding that their lawyers have always made a point of meeting with groups concerned about issues including hate speech and the representation of women on the site.

As these conversations continue, Moms Demand Action is circulating a petition addressed to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, with 55,000+ signatories to date urging the duo to “put an end to this completely unregulated social media gun show” on their respective sites.

Moms Demand founder Shannon Watts (pictured), who formed the group the day after the Newtown massacre, has also overseen the creation of a video aimed at showing how prolific gun sales and trades are on Facebook.

The YouTube clip closely parallels (and parodies) the social networking giant’s ‘Look Back’ videos released to celebrate the site’s 10th anniversary in early February.

Should these activists succeed in persuading Facebook to crack down on gun sales, it’ll mark Watts’ second huge corporate scalp. The former comms executive and mother of five lobbied Starbucks last August, asking that the coffee giant ban weapons following a smattering of pro-gun rallies in and around its stores.

A month later, in September, Starbucks’ billionaire CEO Howard Schultz penned a rare open letter to customers asking that they leave their guns at home.

After her Starbucks win, Watts and her team started pressuring Staples to enact a company-wide ban on weapons in its stores. The office supply giant has yet to acquiesce.

“We’re not just taking on Congress, we’re taking on corporations,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ Lamb. “This is our next phase.”

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