An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Ammunition for your concealed carry handgun. Your grandfather’s hunting shotgun.
In January, Facebook announced it was banning the private sale of guns and ammunition on its site and on Instagram, which it owns. The move was applauded by gun violence prevention groups that advocate for closing the so-called “private sale” loophole, where gun owners in most states are legally allowed to sell their guns without a background check.
But in the six weeks since, it’s clear Facebook’s new rules have done little, if anything, to stop the flow of guns on the social network. The website remains an online marketplace for coordinating and facilitating gun sales. Many users have turned to private groups to post photos offering guns for sale, allowing sellers to avoid the increased scrutiny that comes with public pages.
FORBES tracked gun sales on private pages for weeks after a reporter gained access to more than two dozen groups by requesting to join them and being approved by group administrators. FORBES confirmed details of the posts included in this story with sellers, some of whom were willing to accept payment online through Facebook’s Messenger app.
To avoid being shut down by Facebook, an administrator in a group called “NYS Weapon Photography” warned members last month not to explicitly post their guns for sale. At least not to the entire group, that is:
What followed was a stream of gun photos in response, many with instructions to “PM,” or private message, the member directly to complete the transaction. Here’s an example from the same group, where a member posts a photo of a rifle under the caption “Just putting it out there.” Less than half an hour later, another members asks, “What’s the price?” The seller responds: “Asking 525.”
The group no longer exists. The group’s administrator, Brenden (Bubba) Henderson, told FORBES that he changed the name of the group, then quickly asked “What do you plan on doing with what I told you?” before ending the conversation on Facebook’s messenger app.
Despite its new policy banning gun sales, Facebook doesn’t proactively police its site to uncover violators. It only finds out about gun sales when users alert the company. Unlike other websites dedicated solely to buying and selling goods, such as eBay, Facebook has no keyword filtering system or automated algorithm to flag items that appear to violate its policy. Instead, Facebook relies entirely on user reports to remove items and shut down groups.
But private gun groups tend to attract firearm enthusiasts, and few, if any, of their members appear inclined to report violations of Facebook’s policies. Many openly mock the site’s new rules.
Jodi Seth, director of policy communications for Facebook, acknowledged the system “wasn’t perfect.”
“This will not be our last policy update. We’ll continue to think about how we can do this better,” Seth said. “We’re always trying to find ways to improve the process.”
Read more: Forbes