Facebook Gun Clubs Buy, Sell, Trade And Cause A Stir

May 11, 2014
Originally published on May 12, 2014 8:01 am

Mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years have put access to firearms in the cross-hairs of gun control groups. Last year, some gun control advocates urged Facebook to ban posts advertising guns.

Facebook recently announced that it wouldn't do that, but that it would tighten its rules. Some gun control groups say Facebook missed the mark, but for gun owners, it's a good deal.

Cody Bourgeois recently got a new Smith and Wesson M&P .40 semi-automatic. He says it was his wife's idea.

When she suggested it as a means of home defense, Cody thought of two things: a gun he already had that he didn't use much anymore, and a Facebook group he belongs to, called "Idaho Private Gun / Firearm Buy, Sell and Barter."

"You know, we really could have just gone out and paid $500 to $600 for a pistol, but I started thinking about it," he says. "I got this rifle I don't really need. So I put it on Facebook, and I put that I have this rifle I'm willing to trade for a pistol."

It took a few days, but through his Facebook post, Bourgeois finally found the deal he was looking for. He met the gun's previous owner at a Walmart parking lot. They traded guns, some cash and that was that. Bourgeois says that by buying the gun from a private party, he got what he calls a "screamin'" deal.

Using Facebook groups to trade firearms has some gun control advocates worried. Posting guns online is even more worrisome than gun shows, says Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 a year," he says.

Gross had wanted Facebook to go the way of Craigslist and eBay and ban such posts. Instead, the social networking site said it would hide posts advertising guns from minors, delete posts from people trying to avoid gun laws, and remind users to follow local laws.

The emphasis is on self-policing. Gross says he respects law-abiding citizens' right to buy guns, but he calls Facebook's changes "intensely disappointing."

"I think their policy is a very dangerous one, because it allows dangerous people to continue to get their hands on weapons far too easily," he says.

But not all gun control groups are upset. Some have even applauded Facebook.

Pia Carusone with the group Americans for Responsible Solutions, says the changes are "substantial." Carusone's organization was started by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, after Giffords was nearly killed by a gunman.

"For us, we are founded by two people who believe strongly in the Second Amendment, who are gun owners themselves, and who understand that especially in rural places of America — potentially like Idaho — there's a legitimate use for a social network like Facebook to buy and sell all sorts of things, and that includes firearms," she says.

Some of the gun deals taking place in Western states right now started in Facebook groups created by Earl Loewen. He's set up groups in Idaho, Nevada, Washington and Oregon. He and his team of administrators look over each post before publishing them. Of the hundreds or even thousands of posts Loewen says he's looked over, very few have been shady.

"I've had, like, maybe five or six posts in the whole time I've ever done this, that put up a red flag that somebody was looking for an illegal gun, or didn't want to meet at a police station, or something of those natures," he says. "Those people, I've even not only banned them from the page, but I've also reported them to authorities."

Facebook declined a request for an interview, but in a statement, the company says it tries "hard to balance people's interest in sharing things that they care about, while making sure Facebook is a safe and responsible community."

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.boisestatepublicradio.org.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Mass shootings in recent years have led gun-control groups to look closely at how people in the U.S. get access to firearms. To that end, they have turned their attention to Facebook, where gun sellers can connect with gun buyers. Gun-control advocates have urged Facebook to ban all posts advertising guns. Facebook recently announced that it wasn't willing to go that far, but said it would tighten its rules. Scott Graf of Boise State Public Radio looks into whether that'll be enough to satisfy critics.

SCOTT GRAF, BYLINE: It's a sunny and windy afternoon in the southern Idaho desert. Cody Bourgeois has come to his favorite shooting spot, a place today he shares with a group of boys on motorcycles and four-wheelers. Cody racks the slide on his new handgun.

CODY BOURGEOIS: It's a Smith and Wesson M&P .40 semi-automatic. It's a semi-automatic. It's the military police version. It's got the 15-round clip.

GRAF: With dust blowing in his face, the 25-year-old welder shots at a homemade target he's just unloaded out of the back of his full-size Dodge pickup.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

GRAF: Guns are important to a lot of people in this part of the country. Many people here hunt, some also like to carry while hiking and camping in bear country. But Bourgeois says getting this new handgun was actually his wife's idea. When she suggested it as a mean of home defense, Cody thought of two things - another gun he didn't use much anymore and a Facebook group he belongs to called Idaho Private Gun Firearm Buy, Sell and Barter.

BOURGEOIS: You know, we could've just gone out and paid 500, 600 bucks for a pistol, but, you know, I started thinking about it - I got this rifle I don't really need. So I put it on Facebook and I put I have this rifle I'm willing to trade for a pistol.

GRAF: It took a few days, but through his Facebook post, Bourgeois finally found the deal he was looking for. He met the gun's previous owner at a Walmart parking lot, they traded guns, some cash and that was that. Cody says by cutting out a store and just buying the gun private party, he got what he calls a screaming deal.

That ease of access to guns, though, through Facebook groups, worries Dan Gross. He's the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Online gun posts, he says, worry him more than what happens at gun shows.

DAN GROSS: The reason that they're more dangerous actually than even gun shows and the unlicensed sales that take place there is, yeah, it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 a year.

GRAF: Gross had wanted Facebook to go the way of Craigslist and eBay and ban such posts. Instead, the social networking site said it would keep minors from seeing posts advertising guns, delete posts of those trying to avoid gun laws and remind users to follow local laws. There's emphasis on groups self-policing. Gross says he respects law-abiding citizens' right to buy guns, but he calls Facebook's changes intensely disappointing.

GROSS: I think their policy is a very dangerous one because it allows dangerous people to continue to get their hands on weapons far too easily.

GRAF: But not all gun control groups are upset. Some have even applauded Facebook. Pia Carusone with the group Americans for Responsible Solutions say the changes are substantial. Carusone's organization was started by former Arizona Congressman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly after Giffords was nearly killed by a mentally ill man with a gun.

PIA CARUSONE: For us, we are founded by two people who believe strongly in the Second Amendment, who are gun owners themselves and who understand that, especially in rural places of America potentially like Idaho, there's a legitimate use for a social network like Facebook to buy and sell all sorts of things, and that includes firearms.

GRAF: Some of the gun deals taking place in Western states right now start in Facebook groups created by Earl Loewen. He set up groups in Idaho, Nevada, Washington and Oregon. He and his team of administrators look over each post before publishing them. Of the hundreds or even thousands of posts Loewen says he's looked over, very few have been shady.

EARL LOEWEN: I've had like maybe five or six posts in the whole time I've ever done this that put up a red flag that somebody was looking for an illegal gun or didn't want to meet at a police station or something of those natures. And those people I've even not only banned them from the page, but I've also reported them to authorities.

GRAF: Facebook declined our request for an interview, but in a statement the company says it tries, quote, "hard to balance people's interest in sharing things that they care about, while making thing sure Facebook is a safe and responsible community." For NPR News, I'm Scott Graf in Boise, Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.