Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

Disclaimer: The below article makes reference to federal laws related to gun purchases. Please note that state gun laws vary, and you are well advised to seek expert assistance from an attorney knowledgeable of your state’s statutes regarding the ownership, possession, and/or transfer of firearms if you have questions before buying or selling. The below is not legal advice.

Time Magazine ran a somewhat hyperbolic article this week about the ability of Facebook users to arrange firearm purchases through the site’s messaging features (gasp!). The article’s breathless hook was that it was easier to purchase a gun on Facebook than it was to understand the site’s privacy settings (oh, the horror!), which is  not only misleading, but a misstatement of fact to boot.


The implication was that nefarious individuals were using Facebook as a way to skirt gun laws, but the article provided scant evidence to support that assertion. And, as several commenters pointed out, it’s entirely legal to purchase guns from private citizens, as long as certain guidelines are followed.

None of those guidelines prohibit the use of online platforms to arrange a firearm sale.

According to the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms web site:

A person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of his State, if he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law.

Federal law is silent regarding how the sale is arranged or whether those arrangements can be made online, and there is no requirement that a background check be completed by private sellers under federal law. According to the ATF, federal law only prohibits the sale or transfer of a firearm to an individual who:

  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution;
  • Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or an alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his or her citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;or Has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence Cannot lawfully receive, possess, ship, or transport a firearm.

There’s no restriction — that I could find, at least — barring the use of online platforms to discuss or arrange a gun purchase. To suggest otherwise, or to imply that people are somehow buying guns directly through Facebook (which the article noted doesn’t offer an e-commerce capability anyway) would be factually inaccurate and, frankly, a little dumb.

Photo courtesy of nesoiam

Photo courtesy of nesoiam

The reality is that people all over the country frequently use the internet to search for and purchase firearms. A Google search for online gun stores returns millions of hits, including, which alone had 1.3 million unique visitors per month, as of August, 2012.

So, a more relevant and interesting point for debate might be the issue of universal background checks for all gun buyers, including those making a purchase from a private seller they met on a site like Facebook.

Gun control advocates argue that the lack of universal background checks allows unqualified or dangerous buyers to purchase firearms from private sellers. They argue that all purchases, whether through a licensed gun dealer or not, should be required to complete the same background process. They also note that:

…because federal law does not require universal background checks, “individuals prohibited by law from possessing guns can easily obtain them from private sellers and do so without any federal records of the transactions.”

The NRA, on the other hand, opposes such measures as an unnecessary restriction on the rights of law-abiding individuals to purchase weapons. They argue that most legal gun purchases are made through licensed dealers, who do background checks as a matter of course, or from family, friends, and acquaintances who should already know whether or not the buyer has some disqualifying characteristic.

In terms of how criminal offenders obtain guns, the NRA points to the problem of straw purchasers:

In 1985, the Department of Justice reported that only about one in five convicted felons obtained guns through legal channels such as retail stores. In 1991, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported that 37% of armed career criminals obtained firearms from street sales, 34% from criminal acts and associates, 8% from relatives, and only 7% from dealers and 6% from flea markets and gun shows.  More recently, a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of state prison inmates convicted of firearm crimes found that 79 percent acquired their firearms from “street/illegal sources” or “friends or family.” This includes theft of firearms, black market purchases of stolen firearms, and straw purchases. The survey also found that 12 percent obtained their firearms from firearm dealers (gun stores, pawn shops), while only 1.7 percent obtained firearms from anyone (dealer or non-dealer) at a gun show or flea market.  The FBI’s National Crime Information Center stolen firearm file contained over 2 million reports as of March 1995, and an annual average of 232,400 firearms were stolen between 2005 and 2010.  46.3% of firearms traced by the BATFE in relation to firearm trafficking investigations originate with straw purchasers.

Requiring private sellers, therefore, to conduct a background check would be needlessly burdensome and a waste of resources. The people least likely to comply with background checks are those who aren’t law-abiding in the first place. So, nothing is really gained by requiring such checks by private individuals conducting private sales.

Whether buyers and sellers connect on a social media site, through a web site designed specifically around firearms sales, or via some other online platform, hardly matters at all. If people are abiding by local, state, and federal laws, I can’t see why there’s concern about this happening on Facebook.

What are your thoughts?

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Social media can be a tricky business, even for those who should know what they’re doing. For those who don’t have the first clue how to use it – like the interim chief of police in Columbia, South Carolina – it’s a downright minefield.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Last week, after announcing a successful pot bust by his department on Facebook, the chief received some criticism from a local resident, Brandon Whitmer, who wrote:

Maybe u should arrest the people shooting people in 5 points instead of worrying about a stoner that’s not bothering anyone. It’ll be legal here one day anyway.

Instead of doing the right thing and focusing on a constructive response, Chief Santiago decided instead to engage in a little thing social media mavens and high school principals like to call “cyber-bullying:”

@Brandon whitmer, we have arrested all the violent offenders in Five points. Thank you for sharing your views and giving us reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a criminal, we will work on finding you.

Everything was just fine until he got to “reasonable suspicion.” Why not just stop at “Thank you for your views” and leave it at that instead of straying into what is arguably an action, under color of law, that amounts to a thinly veiled threat against one of the citizens he is sworn to serve and protect?

Image courtesy of Photography by BJWOK /

Image courtesy of Photography by BJWOK /

Well, the fine citizens of Columbia didn’t take kindly to the chief’s remarks and weighed in with some criticisms of their own. To which the chief – shovel firmly in hand now and resolutely prepared to dig the hole he was standing in a little deeper – decided this would be the way to clear things up:

This is Interim Chief Santiago posting. I was just notified that one of my staff members deleted my post. I put everyone on notice that if you advocate for the use of illegal substances in the City of Columbia then it’s reasonable to believe that you MIGHT also be involved in that particular activity, threat? [sic] Why would someone feel threaten [sic] if you are not doing anything wrong? Apply the same concept to gang activity or gang members. You can have gang tattoos and advocate that life style, but that only makes me suspicious of them, I can’t do anything until they commit a crime. So feel free to express yourself, and I will continue to express myself and what we stand for. I am always open to hearing how our citizens feel like we can be effective in fighting crime.

Somehow, advocating a political position gets equated here with taking part in illegal activity. Ken White of Popehat fame provided the best critique of the chief’s wrong-headed screed on modern crime fighting that I was able to find:

If that is Chief Santiago, the police chief of a city of about 125,000 people, thinks that his department should “find you” and investigate you if you support the legalization of marijuana or oppose the ruinous, amoral War on Drugs. Notice the collection of cop tropes in the second response: (1) the thug’s dance of first threatening to “find you” and then halfway backing off from it, (2) the “why worry if you have nothing to hide” routine, (3) the suggestion that advocating against the War on Drugs creates reasonable suspicion to investigate you — bearing in mind that “reasonable suspicion” is a legal term referring to the quantum of proof that supports cops, for instance, stopping and frisking you, and (4) the statement that the cops are always open to hearing from citizens after threatening to come find a citizen for criticizing them.

And even more to the point, below is the Columbia police department’s own mission statement:

It is the mission of the Columbia Police Department to professionally protect and serve with virtue to reducing crime, thus, enhancing the quality of life, in the City of Columbia. This will be accomplished through various pro-active Crime Prevention strategies, techniques and programs working closely with all citizens throughout the city. (emphasis added)

Awkward phrasing and general grammatical crumminess aside, their mission does at least appear to promote the idea of professional conduct and a commitment to partnering with their citizens in crime prevention efforts.

I’m not sure where threatening people who exercise their constitutionally protected right of free speech fits in there, but apparently we just don’t understand the chief’s approach to bullying working closely with citizens to fight crime.

So, what have we learned from the good chief?

  • Having a Facebook account is not a license to threaten others, even if you believe that you’re just “putting people on notice”
  • If you don’t know what you’re doing, resist any urges you might have to put that on public display
  • When you make a mistake, it’s often best to apologize, stop talking, or both
  • Don’t be a bully, ever
  • And, if you find that you’re confused about how to treat your citizenry, refer to your own mission statement, the constitution you swore to uphold and defend, and your own state’s laws for clarification

Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming yet another case example of exactly how not to apply social technology to modern public service.

Have a good week!

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I’m no fan of Facebook, mainly for personal reasons related to privacy, but several stories this week have pointed out the creative ways individuals and agencies are using the platform to fight crime.


The first case involves a man who created a fake Facebook profile on which he published a video he’d captured of his bike being stolen. After a few weeks of comments by Facebookers (and over 400 “Likes”), the alleged bike thief was caught on camera returning the bike to its rightful owner under the cover of darkness (videos at the link).

After the bike was returned, the owner posted the below comment to Facebook:

We woke up this morning to discover that the stolen bike had been returned. Not sure who or why, but your guess is as good as mine.

Having video footage of his alleged criminal behavior shared on social media might have had something to do with it. At any rate, chalk one up for an amateur Facebook sleuth.

The second case comes from Washington State, where a woman went undercover on Facebook to trick her ex into confessing to torching her car (video at the link). She, too, created a fake profile she then used to question her ex-husband, who was apparently oblivious to whom he was actually talking, until he reportedly admitted to the arson.

That, and cell phone data showing his location on the night of the crime, convinced the police to make the arrest.

Another case involved use of Facebook to capture vandals who damaged a restaurant.

News story

It’s not only civilians, but more and more local police departments around the world are getting in on the act, too, by creating profiles to interact with the public, get tips about local offenses, and otherwise share information.

Some departments are using Facebook as an electronic wanted poster, while others are using it as a new type of police blotter.

The Florence, Kentucky police department is using Facebook to post closed-circuit videos of some crimes, such as shoplifting, and claim they’ve solved at least 8 cases by this method.

News story

Still other departments are wading into social media looking for bad behavior before it occurs, including perusing adverts on Facebook for parties involving underage drinking, drug use, and violence. Police then show up to shut things down before they get out of hand.

News story

For better or worse, social media is forcing its way more fully into the mainstream everyday. Facebook appears to be empowering some people to respond proactively to their own victimization, while also giving the police new ways of detecting and combating crime.

If you’ve had any experiences along these lines, share your story below!

Have a safe weekend.

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Facebook proclaims that it “helps you connect and share with the people in your life,” which, as it turns out, may not always be such a good thing. Illegal activity, ranging from child pornography, stalking and harassment, and violation of restraining orders also occurs in the virtual world of social media. Even more concerning, however, are violent offenses, such as  sexual assault and homicide, that have been either facilitated or directly precipitated by use of such sites.

As it turns out, though, this might just be a double edged sword. Social media can facilitate crime, but it can also help solve offenses, too.

For example, a teenager was recently found guilty of a 2011 Facebook-related murder in which the site was used to lure the victim to a location where he was then shot to death. Fortunately, detectives were able to seize the teen’s computer and verify that he was indeed the person responsible for the crime.

Below is an excellent infographic created by that describes twenty other offenses solved using Facebook. The range and scope of these crimes is pretty staggering, as is the apparent ignorance of some of the perpetrators who treated a social media site as if it were their private haven. As you’ll see, that didn’t work out too well for them.