Over the past few weeks, we have learned that anti-gun rights groups have been pressuring Facebook to crack down on users who post about guns. Specifically, a fuss has been made about the practice of selling firearms via Facebook and their subsidiary site, Instagram. Personally, I’ve been bracing for the worst, in which Facebook would simply change their policy to not allow gun posts of any kind, or make it very easy for gun bigots to make life very difficult for lawful gun owners on Facebook and Instagram.
Instead, even though the list of groups that Facebook includes a rogues gallery of anti-gun pressure groups, Facebook took some mostly neutral steps. To quote their blog post on the matter:
- Any time we receive a report on Facebook about a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item, we will send a message to that person reminding him or her to comply with relevant laws and regulations. We will also limit access to that post to people over the age of 18.
- We will require Pages that are primarily used by people to promote the private sale of commonly regulated goods or services to include language that clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations, and limit access to people over the age of 18 or older if required by applicable law.
- We will provide special in-app education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.
- We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law. For example, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will not be permitted to specify “no background check required,” nor can they offer to transact across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.
Do I agree with all of these? No. Do I wish they had asked the NRA or SAF for input on this matter? Yep. Could it be a lot worse? You betcha.
A few people I have talked with about this are outraged, and sputter about the First and Second Amendments. Unfortunately for them, in this case, I don’t believe that the Bill of Rights comes into play. The Constitution lays out our government and limits its powers, but it has little to nothing to say about how private parties relate to one another.
Facebook is not the government. The Constitution provides them with no power, nor does it protect us from any abuses, real or perceived, that Facebook heaps upon us. We always have the option of walking away from Facebook, or Starbucks, or any other business that makes it too difficult for us to enjoy or benefit from our relationship with them. Facebook always has the option to throttle any activity that uses their service, especially if the user in question isn’t a paying customer. It’s their sandbox, and they have the right and power to tell us which toys we can bring and what games we can play when we visit.
So what do we do now? Some of the anti-gunners are dancing on tables over this, while others are crying in their beer. I think we should be somewhere in between. Facebook’s message wasn’t as condescending as the one that Starbucks put out about guns in their restaurants, and to be honest, their new policy is pretty toothless. What I plan on doing is exactly what I’ve been doing: posting what I want to, discussing what I want to, and reading what I want to. I will continue to belong to gun related groups, including those that deal with the sale and trade of firearms. If this new set of policies is used as a cudgel to hurt pro-gun pages and posts, then that will change, but we’re not there yet.
What should we not do? Well a lot of “Screw you!” posts are probably not going to be helpful. The key to our success in re-normalizing the responsible ownership of guns by law-abiding citizens relies to a huge extent on the opinions of neutrals. We will never convince the hardcore anti-gun people to come over to our side. We don’t need to convince the hardcore pro-gun people of the righteousness of our cause. It’s the people in the middle, who have no connection to either side of the argument, that we need to at least not oppose us. Going off like a bunch of jackasses will push more people away from us at a time when we have momentum on our side.
Remember, the first rule of open carry is “Don’t be a dick.”, and I think it should also be the first rule of talking about, showing, and selling firearms on a public website. If you wouldn’t stand up in the middle of a restaurant that has a “Please don’t make guns a problem in our establishment” sticker on the door and scream “Shall not be infringed!”, you probably shouldn’t do it when the owners of a website make the same request.