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Facebook to delete posts for illegal gun sales

NEW YORK — Facebook wants to unite the world so everyone can talk about everything. One of the big things people want to talk about, it turns out, is guns.

The social network is one of the world’s largest marketplaces for guns. A DoubleStar AR-15 is offered for $650. A raspberry-colored Taurus pistol can be had for $239.95, a Bushmaster M4 “fresh from the box” for $1,200.

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“We’ve got over 550 guns, and we need buyers!” posts a Louisiana seller.

Under pressure from law enforcement and advocacy groups, Facebook took steps Wednesday to regulate gun sales on its site and on its photo-sharing site, Instagram. Pages advertising guns for sale, for instance, will be shielded from minors.

Facebook, which bans gun advertising from companies, does not want its growing prominence as a private gun mall to alienate users. Nor does it want to squelch free speech. But if the company hoped its announcement would make the issue disappear, the plan backfired.

Gun control groups applauded the changes. So did Michael R. Bloomberg, who is making gun control one of the most visible elements of his career after serving as New York mayor. But the National Rifle Association said the changes were so insignificant that Bloomberg had failed.

And Daniel Gross, president of one of the largest gun control groups, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said little had been achieved.

“I wouldn’t even call this a meaningful first step,” Gross said. “There’s a simple solution here. Facebook should be prohibiting any post that advertises the unlicensed sale or transfer of firearms in the US”

Some large Internet sites have gone further. Craigslist, the informal community website for all sorts of transactions, prohibits the sale of weapons, as does the auction site eBay.

“We made the unilateral decision to ban all guns in 1999 as part of our commitment to being a responsible online marketplace,” Ryan Moore, an eBay spokesman, said.

Facebook and Instagram are not e-commerce sites, but with over a billion users they encourage a lot of conversations that establish a framework for offline deals. In some ways, the lack of a storefront promotes a willingness to believe there are no rules.

Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, sent Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, a letter in November saying that “a recent review of Facebook found a number of groups in which users promoted the sale of assault rifles, handguns, rifles, shotguns, and gun parts.” He noted that a new New York law requiring background checks could easily be skirted by Facebook users.

Facebook says it strives to be mindful of the needs of all its members.

“Our goal here is to balance people’s interest in sharing things that they care about while making sure our community is a safe and responsible one,” said Matt Steinfeld, a Facebook spokesman.

The specific changes Facebook is putting in place include deleting posts that seek to circumvent gun laws. It will restrict minors from viewing pages that sell guns. And it will inform potential sellers that private sales could be regulated or prohibited where they live.

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