The Facebook group has an ungainly name — Santa Fe, NM Buy, sell, trade, give away, and ask for or offer help — and with 14,000 members and counting, it serves as online swap meet where you can find anything from baby clothes and tamales to furniture. It’s also a convenient place to buy and sell guns.
One recent posting featured a .300-caliber rifle and a .40-caliber handgun.
As the Obama administration and gun control advocates seek to tighten the nation’s gun laws, including closing a loophole that allows gun show purchases without background checks, firearms sales on Facebook and other social media sites have been largely left out of the conversation. Law enforcement authorities consider such sales to be private transactions, exempt from federal background checks.
Thomas Mangan, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said his agency doesn’t track Facebook sales. “It’s like meeting you to buy a refrigerator or a toaster,” Mangan said. “There are no violations. It’s not regulated.”
President Barack Obama is expected this month to issue an executive order requiring expanded background checks for gun sales. The order is expected to require checks of everyone who buys firearms at gun shows or similar venues — like the checks already required for sales in brick-and-mortar gun stores. But it’s not yet clear whether people who sell guns on Facebook and other online sites will also fall under Obama’s definition of those “in the business” of selling firearms, who would be subject to the new restrictions.
An estimated 40 percent of all gun sales occur without background checks — from swaps among friends to online postings to gun show sales. Mass shootings across the U.S. have stoked calls for stricter gun laws, but opposition to such measures, led by groups like the National Rifle Association, remain formidable obstacles.
Catherine Mortensen, a spokeswoman for the NRA, said the group’s stance is that the federal government has plenty of laws regulating the sales of guns online. “Those laws need to be enforced before we add more laws,” Mortensen said.
Online gun sales are reminiscent of the one-time mail-order guns that are now illegal. Lee Harvey Oswald, for instance, purchased a couple of guns via mail order — including the rifle he used to kill President John F. Kennedy.
The seller of the .300-caliber rifle and .40-caliber handgun on the Santa Fe Facebook group didn’t list a price. He instead directed people interested in the weapons to send him a Facebook message; he did not respond to an inquiry from The New Mexican, however. A post from earlier this year features a 9 mm Hi-Point Carbine rifle on sale for $300.
Other sites such as Armslist or Gunlistings serve as online classified lists for private gun sales.
The largest of online classified sites, Craigslist, prohibits weapons sales. The New Mexican also prohibits gun sales in its classifieds section.
Martin Duran, the administrator of the Santa Fe Facebook group, said he has sold a gun or two via Facebook. “I think if people have a problem with sales in this page they are welcome to report it to [Facebook] and let them deal with it,” Duran said.
A Facebook spokesman, Mike Manning, said the company doesn’t prohibit gun sales on its website. Manning said people who use Facebook agree to the site’s policies. Part of those include a requirement that posters clearly remind potential buyers that they have to comply with all gun laws.
But in the gun sales posts reviewed by The New Mexican, there was no such language.
Manning said users also can report postings about firearms if they feel uncomfortable about the posts.
“If someone reports that a group or post is being used to promote the sale of guns, we’ll review it, and if we determine it’s in violation of our community standards, the content it will be removed from Facebook,” Manning said.
In a release issued in 2014, Facebook outlined some of its policies regarding the sale of “controversial” items. It bans sales of drugs and tobacco, and it has limits on advertising for alcohol, adult products and gambling. The release also said gun sellers aren’t allowed to advertise their product by saying “no background check required.”
State Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, said he hadn’t heard about the practice of selling guns on Facebook, but it troubles him. For the past three legislative sessions, he has introduced a bill that calls for background checks for those who purchase firearms at gun shows.
Garcia said he intends to reintroduce those bills in the coming legislative session, but he’s not confident about their success in the Republican-controlled House. Garcia said whether it’s online or at a gun show, lack of oversight for gun sales is a problem.
Miranda Viscoli, vice president of the nonprofit group New Mexicans Against Gun Violence, said firearm sales on sites such as Facebook demonstrate the need for universal background checks.
“I mean anybody, a convicted felon, could buy these firearms, no questions asked,” Viscoli said. “Facebook needs to stop the sale of guns on its site.”
Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CQuintanaSF.