SAN FRANCISCO Facebook Inc (FB.O) and its photo sharing subsidiary, Instagram, will delete posts offering to buy or sell guns without background checks, Facebook announced on Wednesday.
In an effort to curb what gun control advocates say is the increasing use of the social networks to circumvent checks and controls on firearms sales, Facebook and Instagram will also bar users under 18 from viewing gun offers posted by individuals or groups.
"We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law," Facebook said.
The move by the world's largest social network and Instagram may add fuel to an already intense debate over U.S. gun rights, following a series of mass shootings across the country.
A spate of shootings in recent weeks across the United States has renewed questions about the vulnerability of public places like shopping centers and schools and sparked fresh calls for stiffer gun controls such as universal background checks and limitations on the sale of ammunition.
States like Connecticut and New York have passed a series of new gun measures. But opponents, including the National Rifle Association, the nation's leading gun rights lobby, argue that tighter restrictions would unfairly limit the rights of responsible gun owners.
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Facebook said its policy change was made in consultation with a number of individuals and organizations, including New York state Attorney General Attorney Eric Schneiderman, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Sandy Hook Promise and Moms Demand Action, which drew attention to loopholes on the Internet that allowed private sales of firearms without background checks.
"Our campaign exposed how simple it is for dangerous people to get their hands on guns, no questions asked - not only on Facebook and Instagram - but across the Internet," Mayors Against Illegal Guns Chairman John Feinblatt said in a joint statement with Moms Demand Action.
"Unfortunately, the ‘private sale loophole' allows anonymous parties to sell guns without background checks, and there are simply too many ways for criminals, minors and other prohibited gun purchasers to get them easily - with just the click of a mouse," he said.
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."
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of expression, as well as freedom of religion.
The Second Amendment says, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own firearms or solely a state's right to self-defense has been heavily debated.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic and Edwin Chan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)