Op-Ed: Private Sector Helping Stop The Flow Of Illegal Guns
The debate over sensible gun policies remains stalled in Washington, a victim of special-interest politics and congressional timidity. But that hasn't prevented progress in the fight to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people, thanks to private-sector leaders who are stepping up and meeting the challenge.
Recently, Facebook announced policy changes that will make it harder for criminals and minors to buy guns from people they meet online. Any post on Facebook or Instagram offering a gun for sale without a background check will be taken down. Minors will be barred from seeing posts by unlicensed gun dealers. Legal advisories will be sent to sellers, and users will be able to report possible illegal activity.
Facebook took these steps after a campaign by Moms Demand Action drew more than 200,000 supporters, and after the New York State Attorney General's Office launched an investigation into the site. While Facebook is not an online retailer, its members -- including convicted felons in Iowa and Washington and a minor in Kentucky -- were using Facebook to buy and sell guns illegally.
Facebook recognized that responsible corporate governance includes taking proactive steps to prevent dangerous illegal activity -- and to its credit, it did.
It wasn't the first time a private-sector company showed leadership in this area. Google+ and Craigslist have both taken steps to prevent illegal sales through their sites. Several years ago, Wal-Mart created a Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition that includes mayors from every region of the country. Wal-Mart agreed to take 10 steps to help prevent illegal gun sales, including videotaping all firearms transactions and requiring background checks for all employees who sell or handle guns.
Both of us also have had success working with operators of gun shows.
In 2009, New York City conducted an undercover investigation of private sellers at gun shows in three states: Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee. Nearly two-thirds of sellers sold to investigators who said they probably could not pass a background check -- even though it is against federal law to do so. The city brought those results back to gun show operators, and a majority agreed to improve their practices to prevent illegal sales.
In 2011, the New York Attorney General's Office conducted an undercover investigation of gun shows around the state and found the same problem. The office then worked with a group of gun show operators to develop model gun show procedures, which have now been signed by every known gun show operator in the state. The procedures require that gun show operators give written notice to all dealers that state law requires a background check before any gun can be sold or transferred. All guns brought into shows are tagged and, upon exit, inspected, to ensure that background checks are completed for all purchases. And operators notify law enforcement authorities when a gun show is to be held.
The vast majority of gun sellers are responsible actors and -- from our experience -- willing to discuss reasonable steps they can take to prevent illegal activity. The same is true of other private-sector leaders who do not want to enable criminal activity. This belief in responsible citizenship has nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with upholding the law and preventing some of the 12,000 homicides that occur with guns every year.
Although Congress is paralyzed by special-interest politics, citizens, mayors and law enforcement authorities are working with private-sector leaders to make communities safer. It's a healthy and productive dialogue -- and one that Congress ought to be joining.