New Investigation by Everytown, ‘The Wild, Wild Web’ Shows How Criminals in Nevada Flock to the Vast Online Marketplace Including Facebook, Backpage.com, Gunlistings.com and Armslist.com to Evade Background Checks
NEW YORK – Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America today applauded Facebook for taking an important step to keep guns out of dangerous hands by ending all unlicensed gun sales arranged on the world’s most popular social media platforms. The move by Facebook comes after months of discussions between Facebook and Everytown leaders, Everytown’s investigations exposing how the online marketplace makes it easy for dangerous people prohibited from owning guns to get their hands on them, and a previous campaign by Moms Demand Action – a part of Everytown – to make social media safer for children.
“Moms are grateful for Facebook’s leadership today in announcing that they will end all unlicensed gun sales arranged on their platforms,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Two years ago, our campaign to get Facebook to change how their platforms host firearm sales resulted in nine new policies to curb children’s exposure to guns and to clarify state laws around selling and buying guns online. Our continued relationship with Facebook resulted in today’s even stronger stance, which will prevent dangerous people from getting guns and save American lives.”
“We’re gratified that our continuous conversation with Facebook over the course of the last two years has culminated in the company prohibiting all unlicensed gun sales arranged on its platforms,” said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Our undercover investigations have shown that criminals are active in the online market for guns, where unlicensed sellers can offer guns with no federal background check required. We’re thankful that Facebook has listened to our call and shut down a key avenue that criminals have used to avoid background checks and buy guns with no questions asked.”
“I am glad Facebook is blocking unlicensed gun sales from their site because for me it’s personal,” said Catherine Bodine, who was shot and whose daughter Samantha was shot and killed on December 22, 2014 by Catherine’s ex-boyfriend, a convicted felon, with a gun he purchased from an unlicensed seller he met on Facebook. “Dangerous people like the man who shot me should not be able to buy guns without a background check. I hope that by taking this step, Facebook will make it less likely that other families experience the pain that our family has endured.”
For years Everytown has conducted research to expose how the online market for guns is vast and growing. Nationally, dozens of websites – like Armslist.com, the self-described Craigslist for guns – each host tens of thousands of ads for unlicensed gun sales and provide a forum for strangers to connect and arrange offline gun transfers, just like Craigslist does for furniture sales and concert tickets. Would-be buyers and sellers can post ads to these websites offering guns “for sale” or to announce their interest in obtaining a firearm with a “want-to-buy” ad. Because federal law does not permit unlicensed sales across state lines, most websites allow users to search for ads by state. When a person seeking a gun identifies a seller – or a person selling a gun identifies a buyer – the two typically negotiate the transfer and arrange to meet offline to complete the transaction. More information about online gun sales is available here.
Facebook’s actions are particularly important in light of the increasing drumbeat of gun violence perpetrated by people barred from having guns who nevertheless got armed on Facebook:
- On December 22, 2014, in New Paris, OH, Brian Harleman, 43, shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend Catherine Bodine and fatally shot her ten-year-old daughter Samantha Carpenter before killing himself. He was prohibited from possessing firearms due to a previous felony conviction for carrying a firearm without a license and would have failed a background check at a licensed dealer. But he was able to obtain the murder weapon in an unlicensed sale on Facebook, where no background check was required.
- On December 2, 2014, in Morgantown, WV, Jody Lee Hunt fatally shot his ex-girlfriend and three other people before fatally shooting himself. Hunt had a lengthy history of violent firearm crime that barred him from possessing firearms. ATF traced the 9mm handgun used in the shooting to a Monongalia County resident, who said he sold the gun to Hunt via Facebook.
New Everytown Research in Nevada Shows How Nearly One in 11 Would-Be Online Gun Buyers in Nevada Are Prohibited from Possessing Firearms
The Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund recently released a new report (available here), “The Wild, Wild Web: Investigating Online Gun Markets in Nevada,” that reveals how felons, domestic abusers and other prohibited individuals in Nevada are flocking to the vast online gun marketplace to evade criminal background checks and arm themselves illegally – including Facebook. Key findings include:
- On just four websites in Nevada, unlicensed sellers post an estimated 35,862 unique gun ads annually.
- The investigation of four major sites – Facebook, Backpage.com, Gunlistings.com and Armslist.com – found that nearly one in 11 people in Nevada shopping online for a gun without a background check (8.7 percent) is prohibited from possessing firearms, including convicted felons profiled in the report.
- The share of prohibited online gun buyers is almost seven times higher than the share of Nevadans who try to buy guns at licensed dealers and fail background checks.
- At this rate, in a single year, just four websites in Nevada could put over 3,100 guns into the hands of felons and domestic abusers.
“Our investigation shines a light on a dark corner of the web, and the results are alarming. Not only are criminals and domestic abusers aware of the unlicensed sale loophole – they are exploiting it,” said Ted Alcorn, research director for Everytown for Gun Safety. “The share of would-be online gun buyers who are prohibited from having guns is almost seven times higher than the share of those who go to a licensed dealer, where there’s a criminal background check to stop the sale.”
Moms Led Previous Campaigns Encouraging Facebook and Instagram to Make Social Media Safer for Children
Two years ago Moms Demand Action launched a campaign asking Facebook and Instagram to shut down a key avenue that criminals and minors have used to arm themselves and put lives in danger – and Moms kept that conversation going ever since. In barely a month the 2014 campaign drew more than 230,000 supporters who were concerned that anyone could, with the click of a mouse, find someone willing to sell him a gun with no background check, no questions asked.
As part of the campaign, Moms released a “closer look” video (available here) to riff on Facebook’s 10th anniversary “look back” videos to explain how Facebook’s previous policies made it easy for guns to be bought and sold online without criminal background checks. Moms also brought to light cases of minors and felons buying guns on Facebook.
Facebook took important steps in 2014 by announcing that they would delete any gun ad that mentioned the words “no background check” and block users under 18 from viewing gun posts. Today Facebook took it a big step further by blocking all unlicensed gun sales arranged on its platforms.
“We all have a role to play in reducing gun violence, and the corporate world is no different. Millions of gun sales are arranged online, without background checks in this country and Facebook’s bold move will help narrow the dangerous market that allows guns to fall into the wrong hands,” said Watts. “Today’s announcement by Facebook is a major indicator of the temperature and direction of corporate America and a nation that is demanding a more responsible gun culture.
Moms Demand Action has a history of working with national businesses to prioritize gun safe. Past campaigns have garnered hundreds of thousands of supporters to successfully persuade corporate giants like Starbucks, Target, Chipotle, Sonic, Chili’s, and Jack in the Box to publicly announce gun sense policies for their national storefronts. More information on Moms Demand Action’s corporate campaigns is available here.