Follow Your Friends…And Arms Dealers on Instagram
The popular picture-sharing social network Instagram has definitely cornered the market on sharing brunch memories and beach photos. But now there’s a new, surprising, industry developing from the network that originally made a name for itself with teenage and college-aged girls. Instagram has now become a forum to sell guns.
Gun regulations vary state by state, but many states do not have laws in place governing online sales. While companies and official sellers have laws that they must follow, individual private sellers are not necessarily held to the same constraints. For the most part, the ATF does not get involved in occasional private sales. They encourage sellers to go to a licensed dealer and get a background check for the people to whom they are selling; however, it’s not really enforced. This market, which is at least superficially anonymous, is almost completely unregulated. On Instagram, you can find everything from small handguns to assault rifles.
Sam Hoover from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in a statement to the Daily Beast stated, “private sales to in-state buyers are almost completely unregulated by federal law. No background check and no record of sale are required unless state law fills this gap.” That is the venue through which most of these sales are made. Essentially, private sellers are selling firearms almost completely anonymously to people within their state who have no need to pass a background check or anything of the sort.
Online sites that are created for the purpose of sales—for example Craigslist or Ebay—have rules that prohibit the casual selling of firearms. But a site like Instagram, which has no innate sales function, does not have any rules of those sorts.
The issue isn’t that these types of sales are by any means illegal—the issue is that the vast majority of them are. Technology allows a forum for sales that laws never thought to outlaw. Before the Internet, if someone wanted to buy a gun privately, they would have to hear about the sale from a friend, or possibly go to some sort of semi-black marketplace. Laws weren’t created to prevent these kinds of sales, because they were relatively sparse. Now, with the Internet, these sales are incredibly easy to complete. Just searching Instagram for the keywords, or tags, that indicate sales, yields the ability to purchase firearms.
The actual magnitude of this marketplace is unknown—the Daily Beast reported as though there were many sales happening each week, while a Slate article disagreed and estimated that only a few sales happened in a given week. Regardless of who’s right, these sales do appear to happen. And if they happen on Instagram, a site that is a social network and by no means created for sales, there’s every possibility that they could be happening on other forums.
There have been a few select cases of legal action being pursued against sellers on Instagram. A few months ago, a rapper and DJ in Brooklyn, NY, talked about selling guns on Instagram and Youtube. Authorities went forward with a gun bust that resulted in a net raid of 254 guns. Because these were not simply occasional sales made between individuals, charges could be pressed. Unfortunately, that will not be the case with most of these gun sales.
Anneliese Mahoney (@AMahoney8672) is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Brent Danley via Flickr]