|Who not to sell a gun to
Facebook’s move to ban private gun sales online actually has an unintended consequence that will make society less safe and exposes the deficiencies of background checks. The pervasiveness of social media, by invitation, into our personal lives provides an insight into the character of gun buyers that federal bureaucrats can only dream of. In an instant, anyone with permissions can judge the character of a potential gun buyer. Rather than a system that essentially says “sale not prohibited,” social media acts as a way to verify the human qualities a database can’t quantify.
Many Facebook sellers have decided to cancel sales based on what a potential buyer’s profile revealed about that person. For instance, admissions (and often pictures) of drug use, which makes the buyer a prohibited person and ineligible from possessing a firearm, is often found. While it is all so easy to lie about drug use on the background check form (ATF Form 4473), it’s very hard to lie on social media where the user revealed intimate details of their life, wrongly assuming damning facts may remain un-revealed.
Responsible private sellers, using Facebook, have been able to do what the impersonal NICS database can’t do; apply human judgment to objective data. Government databases are limited to relatively sterile information; a series of boxes marked “Do not pass go.” Many of the questions asked of prospective gun buyers can easily be lied to. Using drugs as metaphor, there is no national database of drug users, nor is a buyer subjected to a urine test at the gun store. Yet a private seller can see images of the buyer using marijuana or flashing gang signs, and cancel the sale.
While there are bad apples out there who will sell regardless of a buyer’s character, many gun dealers are crooked, but the majority honor the law. With all his wealth of info on our personal lives, Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook haven’t been paying attention to the nature of gun groups. Most gun owners take their hobby extremely seriously and gun groups are largely self-policing. Dedicated gun exchange groups are generally staffed by attentive moderators. Members will quickly point out potentially criminal transactions and lambaste anyone foolish enough to violate established protocol.
By no means am I encouraging use of social media as a background check too, but for personal peace of mind, it is a way to judge whether or not one might want to business with another. In our large, impersonal society, the self-admissions made on social media have become the modern day equivalent of reputation and word of mouth. The relationships cultivated online and a safe forum, subject to the scrutiny of other group members, adds an additional layer of security that less personal services like Armslist lack.