[image-1]Local groups using Facebook to purchase firearms were caught off guard Friday when the social network announced a ban on all private, person-to-person gun sales.
In recent years, the site had become a popular destination for users to advertise the sale and trade of weapons and ammunition. For numerous online groups centered in the Charleston area, Facebook had become a quick and easy way to connect with other firearm aficionados, but users also opened themselves up to the possibility of gun deals gone wrong.
In January, one member of the Facebook group Palmetto Firearm and Ammo Trader for the local sale and trade of guns posted an ad online for a handgun. According to an incident report from the Charleston Police Department, the man was soon contacted by an interested buyer and the two parties arranged a sale via Facebook messenger. Officers were told the two men met later that same day around 3:30 p.m. in a gym parking lot in West Ashley to exchange the weapon for $500 cash. After receiving his payment and handing over the weapon, the complainant realized that he had received counterfeit cash bearing the words “For Motion Picture Use Only,” according to the incident report. After being unable to reach the buyer using Facebook Messenger, the man then contacted the police. Officers noted that the Facebook profile used to contact the seller contained no identifying information and the complainant did not obtain any other personal information during their interaction.
Those using Facebook groups to buy and sell products must agree to the site’s community standards, which previously only prohibited advertising the sale of prescription or illegal drugs. Before Friday’s announcement, any group used to promote the sale of guns was required to include language that clearly reminded people to comply with relevant laws in their area. According to a Facebook representative contacted just days before the new ban was announced, the company would review reports of a group or post being used to promote the sale of guns, and the content would be removed from the site if determined to be in violation of company standards.
Local Facebook group pages promoting the sale of guns remained active Monday morning, but with the announcement of the new guidelines, members were left searching for alternatives. Some individuals mentioned creating their own websites, while others simply pointed out the existence of sites such as armslist.com that allow users to promote private, person-to-person sales of firearms.
Although Facebook may be shutting down the private sale of guns, simply arranging to purchasing weapons from individuals online is not in violation of any state gun laws. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, South Carolina prohibits knowingly selling or offering to sell to individuals who have been convicted of a violent crime, habitual drunkards, drug addicts, members of subversive organizations, certain domestic abusers, or those “adjudicated as a mental defective.” In what has been deemed the “gun show loophole,” South Carolina does not require background checks prior to the transfer of firearms between unlicensed individuals. While not required by law, many sellers in local Facebook groups advise others to conduct background checks on potential buyers and draft formal bills of sale to officially document transactions.
“The gun show loophole is really the online sales loophole. It’s very easy for me to go online and find someone that will sell me a gun, no questions asked,” says John Gruber, regional organizing manager with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “I can meet them. I can arrange a sale in a parking lot. That’s what we actually mean when we say, ‘gun show loophole.’”
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced executive actions that included extending federal regulations requiring background checks. Under the new laws, anyone designated as being “in the business” of selling guns would be required to register as a dealer and perform background checks on buyers. The president’s actions drew harsh criticism from Second Amendment groups, and groups on both sides of the issue felt that the new regulations did not go far enough to specify who qualifies as a dealer.
According to an article from the Associated Press, “the exact definition of who must register as a dealer and conduct background checks remains exceedingly vague. The administration did not issue a number for how many guns someone must sell to be considered a dealer, instead saying it planned to remind people that courts have deemed people to be dealers in some cases even if they only sell a handful of guns.”
The push for stronger gun regulations in South Carolina has gained strength over the past year following the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel AME. In October, The State newspaper reported on a Winthrop Poll survey which found that approximately 80 percent of those questioned support laws requiring that background checks be completed before potential buyers can walk away with a firearm. This weekend, more than 1,300 congregations across South Carolina participated in “Stand-Up Sunday,” an effort organized by Gun Sense SC to spread awareness about the effects of gun violence and support nonpartisan legislation on background checks.
In a statement released by the group, Rev. Bert Keller, retired minister of the Circular Congregational Church in Charleston, said, “Many people in South Carolina want to act publicly on their religious faith. This is an important day for clergy to address the crisis of gun violence in our communities — to stand up for those we’ve already lost to it and to talk with their congregations about what we must do to make a difference.”
In terms of potential changes in state law governing gun sales, Sen. Marlon Kimpson has introduced a bill that would require any person to complete a background check on a buyer prior to the sale, exchange, or transfer of any firearm. That bill currently resides in the state Senate Judiciary Committee.
“South Carolina exports a ton of crime guns. On the Brady Campaign Scorecard, we found that South Carolina is one of the highest exporters of guns used in crimes out of all the states,” says Gruber. “What we would ask them to do is make Brady background checks expanded to all gun sales on the state level. That would close any loophole or any ability for someone to sell online and not have the buyer pass a background check.”