Editorial: Thumbs up for Facebook gun policy

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When U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) met with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board this week, she talked about the need to do something about “urban, everyday shootings” that don’t get as much attention on the nation scene as mass killings do.

On Friday, Facebook announced a policy that should help reduce the “urban, everyday shootings.” The company said it will no longer allow private sales of guns on Facebook or its photo-sharing app Instagram. The new policy will make it harder for convicted felons and others who can’t own guns legally to skirt the law and buy firearms online. It’s a sensible decision we hope encourages public officials and other companies to play a bigger role in reducing the nation’s epidemic of gun violence.

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When Chicago police recover guns at crime scenes, the weapons were almost always illegally owned. If gun laws were designed properly, it would be difficult for criminals banned from gun ownership to acquire firearms. But loopholes in gun laws allow crime guns to flow into the city as fast as police can confiscate them.

The result is carnage. Eight people were killed, and 23 were wounded over the weekend in Chicago shootings. On Monday, more of the same: Two dead, four and wounded. Last month, nearly 300 people were shot in Chicago, the worst January in 16 years.

Facebook’s new policy will address one of the loopholes that enable the flow of illegal guns. Gun purchasers must go through a background check to ensure they are legally allowed to own a gun — if they buy from a registered dealer. But dangerous people banned from buying guns can turn to the Internet, where background checks aren’t required in private transactions. In one example provided by Everytown for Gun Safety, an Ohio man prohibited from buying firearms through normal channels easily bought one on Facebook that he used in 2014 to wound his ex-girlfriend and kill her 10-year-old daughter before killing himself. That online loophole is bigger than the Deep Tunnel.

Now, under its new policy, Facebook won’t be a major part of the online loophole. Although Facebook doesn’t directly sell guns, its more than 1.5 billion monthly users make it huge marketplace for buying and selling goods, including — until now — firearms. In the future, licensed gun dealers will still be permitted to advertise weapons, but others won’t.

Almost a month ago, President Barack Obama announced an executive initiative —now the subject of a lawsuit — that requires everyone who sells guns, including on the Internet, to register as a firearms dealer, which would require them to perform background checks on gun purchasers. Facebook’s new policy will complement that, helping to achieve the goal of reducing sales that don’t involve background checks.

The new system won’t be flawless. Facebook apparently will rely on users to flag unlicensed gun sellers who ignore the new policy. That’s not exactly a steel gate. But it’s a step in the right direction.

At a time when Congress can’t even bring itself to even do some half-hearted hand-wringing over the shocking and continuous unnecessary loss of American lives, it’s up to everyone else to do their part.

Craigslist and eBay already ban gun sales. Now, Facebook has risen to the challenge of doing something about “urban, everyday shootings.” We hope that persuades others to do so as well.

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