Mar 5, 2014 · 2 minutes

It's about to get a lot harder to find firearms on Facebook or Instagram.

Facebook today announced that it will issue warnings to users who sell guns on its network, make groups include legal warnings on their profiles, and introduce "special in-app education" to Instagram users searching for guns.

Facebook says it will "not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law." Users will also be prohibited from advertising gun sales that don't require background checks or telling buyers that they will transport guns across state boundaries without a legal gun dealership's license.

The announcement follows reports that Instagram had become a common firearms marketplace through which its users could purchase guns without having to worry about background checks or applicable laws. VentureBeat reports that it was able to find a seller willing to part with a semi-automatic rifle without so much as an identification card, let alone a background check.

Internet users have been finding ways to buy and sell guns for years. Some sites, like the now-defunct Silk Road marketplace, allowed sellers to hawk their wares in a digital black market. Facebook and Instagram were more like street corners where buyers and sellers conducted their business in the open and hoped that they wouldn't get caught.

That might have been more convenient -- who has the time to install Tor before searching for illegal firearms? -- but now it seems these buyers will have to head back to the "dark Web" for illicit purchases. In the meantime, Instagram will lose what little edge it had and go back to being a place where people share "belfies" and pictures of rich kids doing stupid shit.

Reactions from around the Web

The New York Times reports that some Facebook users are already turning this into a First Amendment issue:

'This is clearly an attempt to deny freedom of speech while persecuting American Arms Owners and Enthusiasts,' wrote one user on the Guns for Sale page. 'Better fight this folks. It cannot be allowed to happen.'
Reuters writes that the National Rifle Association has also decried Facebook's actions:
On Wednesday, the NRA accused Mayors Against Illegal Guns of previously trying to inhibit free expression on Facebook.

The groups 'tried to pressure Facebook into shutting down discussion of Second Amendment issues on its social media platforms,' said Chris Cox, executive director, NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

'NRA members and our supporters will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms.' Slate notes that Instagram was only used as an advertising service, not a place where people could actually purchase guns:

Actually, you can’t buy anything on Instagram, because the site has no payment mechanism. You can see guns for sale on Instagram, just like you could see them on a flyer nailed to a telephone poll, but to actually buy them you have to get in touch with the seller through some other means. Whether a background check is part of the ensuing negotiation has absolutely nothing to do with Instagram.
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]