A discussion group on Facebook called Texas Pew Pew Pew Show & Tell warned its users that it was intended to host conversations “about anything that goes pew pew pew,” but not to facilitate the sale or trade of firearms.
The same note asked participants to “be smart” and “to take it to PM,” a reference to private messages. “If you don’t get the hint, I can’t help stupid,” the note said.
Though the message did not explicitly tell users to talk about the sale of guns only on a private channel, those who monitor such posts said it was one of many ways that users of Facebook, the world’s largest social network, have tried to circumvent its ban on private gun sales announced in January.
Mike Monteiro, a web designer from San Francisco, helped start a campaign to monitor Facebook and report violations to get gun sales removed. Mr. Monteiro, 48, said he felt compelled to act after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in June in the country’s worst mass shooting.
“I just started to search for gun sales, and sure enough, Facebook was full of them,” he said.
Some users have tried to skirt the ban by advertising other products for sale, such as baby powder or a can of Hawaiian Punch, next to rifles.
Other users did little to hide their intentions. A post pinned on a military memorabilia and firearms Facebook page recommended that those who wanted to sell guns or ammunition write the caliber and model numbers using code words, rely on external sites to share photos and make deals through private messages. The group’s moderator did not respond to a message on Facebook.
Mr. Monteiro said in the past month he reported about 500 posts or groups. Facebook took down about two-thirds of them, but sometimes only after follow-up complaints. Some of Mr. Monteiro’s social media followers joined in the effort. “If even you report 10 and one gets knocked down, that’s one less gun sale,” he said.
Mr. Monteiro is not alone in his effort. John B. Sibley, 41, of the Bronx, spends an average of 30 to 45 minutes a day reporting violations. He said he has been a longtime supporter of groups that seek greater gun control but felt that their approach focused mostly on raising money and seeking changes legislatively.
“If you want to do something practical, they don’t have much to offer you there,” he said. “This is an action I can take. Every time I foil a gun sale, I get a little satisfaction.”
Not everyone feels the same way, however. Mr. Sibley said he gets a fair amount of harassment on Facebook. Mr. Monteiro said a photo posted online showed a rifle pointing at a computer screen that displayed his Twitter profile. He has also been banned briefly by Facebook four times after his account was flagged several times.
Mr. Sibley said he personally has gotten 1,288 groups or posts removed in a month. He takes a screenshot of every confirmed removal notice. He also developed a detailed guide to identifying gun sales on Facebook.
Groups that operate in the open (ones with “buy guns” in their names, for instance) have been taken down, and what remain are closed, coded or secret, he said. “We’re starting to shut down the marketplace,” he said.
Still, Mr. Monteiro and Mr. Sibley described Facebook’s reporting process as a cumbersome multistep procedure that can change from day to day.
They suggested that Facebook has sophisticated software developers who could easily make the process of eliminating gun sales as automated and effective as it does in rooting out images of child pornography.
“When you want to change something, you can change it,” Mr. Monteiro said. “What all this boils down to is if Facebook did not want guns on the site, the guns would be gone tomorrow. They have the technology to do this.”
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement that she was grateful for Facebook’s response to the groups’ campaign to ban private gun sales, but that it needs to take responsibility for enforcing its own policy.
“Part of being a good corporate actor is taking ownership — lives are on the line, and it’s vital that Facebook figures this out quickly,” she said.
Facebook said any content that violated its prohibition would be removed. “We rely on our community of 1.6 billion people to help us enforce this policy by making it possible for anyone to report any piece of content including posts, photos, videos, and messages,” it said in a statement.
The Facebook group Barter Junkies, which currently has more than 166,000 members, lost about 17,000 members after the gun sales ban went into effect, said Christopher Sullivan, the group’s primary moderator. The group facilitates the purchase, sale and barter of goods that include, among other things, cars, real estate and car parts. Mr. Sullivan said he regularly gets complaints and threats about enforcing the ban or when gun sales are removed. When he recently posted a note reminding users about the ban, the group lost 4,000 followers in four days.
Gun enthusiasts are also turning to activism. A petition on change.org that has drawn 40 of the 100 supporters it seeks urged Facebook to lift its ban. Douglas T. Brooks, 23, of Jacksonville, Fla., said he started the petition after a group he moderated on Facebook, Jacksonville Gun Traders, was shut down because it allowed members to buy, trade and sell guns.
“We were just mad because they shut us down without warning,” he said, calling the ban “kind of ridiculous.”
A secret group with a slightly different name was permitted by Facebook after it pledged to only discuss guns, he said. Still, Mr. Brooks said, he could not understand why Facebook would bar users who could legitimately own guns from buying and selling them on its site. “I would say it’s stepping on your rights,” he said.
Surely murder is a serious subject, which ought to be examined seriously. Instead, it is almost always examined politically in the context of gun control controversies, with stock arguments on both sides that have remained the same for decades. And most of those arguments are irrelevant to the central question: Do tighter gun control laws reduce the murder rate?
That is not an esoteric question, nor one for which no empirical evidence is available. Think about it. We have 50 states, each with its own gun control laws, and many of those laws have gotten either tighter or looser over the years. There must be tons of data that could indicate whether murder rates went up or down when either of these things happened.
But have you ever heard any gun control advocate cite any such data? Tragically, gun control has become one of those fact-free issues that spawn outbursts of emotional rhetoric and mutual recriminations about the National Rifle Association or the Second Amendment.
If restrictions on gun ownership do reduce murders, we can repeal the Second Amendment, as other Constitutional Amendments have been repealed. Laws exist to protect people. People do not exist to perpetuate laws.
But if tighter restrictions on gun ownership do not reduce murders, what is the point of tighter gun control laws— and what is the point of demonizing the National Rifle Association?
There are data not only from our 50 states, but also from other countries around the world. Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm’s empirical study, “Guns and Violence: The English Experience,” should be eye-opening for all those who want their eyes opened, however small that number of people might be.
Professor Malcolm’s book illustrates the difference between isolated, cherry-picked facts and relevant empirical evidence.
Many gun control advocates have cited the much higher murder rates in the United States than in England as due to tighter gun control laws in England. But Professor Malcolm’s study points out that the murder rate in New York has been some multiple of the murder rate in London for two centuries — and, during most of that time, neither city had serious restrictions on gun ownership.
As late as 1954, “there were no controls on shotguns” in England, Professor Malcolm reported, but only 12 cases of armed robbery in London. Of these only four became ever more severe — and armed robberies in London soared to 1,400 by 1974.
“As the numbers of legal firearms have dwindled, the numbers of armed crimes have risen” is her summary of that history in England. Conversely, in the United States the number of handguns in American homes more than doubled between 1973 and 1992, while the murder rate went down.
There are relevant facts available, but you are not likely to hear about them from politicians currently pushing for tighter gun control laws, or from the mainstream media, when those facts go against the claims of gun control advocates.
Despite hundreds of thousands of times a year when Americans use firearms defensively, none of those incidents is likely to be reported in the mainstream media, even when lives are saved as a result. But one accidental firearm death in a home will be broadcast and rebroadcast from coast to coast.
Virtually all empirical studies in the United States show that tightening gun control laws has not reduced crime rates in general or murder rates in particular. Is this because only people opposed to gun control do empirical studies? Or is it because the facts uncovered in empirical studies make the arguments of gun control zealots untenable?
In both England and the United States, those people most zealous for tighter gun control laws tend also to be most lenient toward criminals and most restrictive on police. The net result is that law-abiding citizens become more vulnerable when they are disarmed and criminals disobey gun control laws, as they disobey other laws.
The facts are too plain to be ignored. Moreover, the consequences are too dangerous to law-abiding citizens, whose lives are put in jeopardy on the basis of fact-free assumptions and unexamined dogmas. Such arguments are a farce, but not the least bit funny.
Thomas Sowell, a National Humanities Medal winner, is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher and author. He is currently Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.