Instagram, a popular social networking app, has suddenly become a hot spot for gun exchanges. In part, this marketplace has grown because Instagram doesn’t have a policy on gun sales, which isn’t too surprising since it wasn’t conceived as a site for commercial transactions. Instagram was bought by Facebook last year for $1 billion and is a craze among Fairmont students, who interact through posting pictures.
However, the content of the site has taken an unexpected twist as private gun owners and professional dealers have flocked to the app to buy, sell and trade their weapons. Aside from the annoyance at finding a social media site flooded with gun ads, many are questioning the legality and safety of the practice.
Currently, no federal law bans the sale of firearms over the Internet or limits weapons sales between individuals. Ohio Revised Code 2923.20 makes it illegal to “recklessly” sell firearms to felons, fugitives, people addicted to drugs or alcohol or people who have been found mentally incompetent.
Greg Andrew, a former police officer, believes the people who are purchasing firearms via Instagram are not being honest. “Gun sales should be in person so they can be positively identified,” he said. In fact, many of the buyers and sellers are semi-anonymous, meaning they don’t use real names or complete names.
But Carla Sacher, a Fairmont High School resource officer, says she might buy or sell a gun on Instagram under a few conditions. “If I used Instagram and thought it was a safe, legal, and secure app to do this transaction, I would not see a problem with it,” she said.
Handguns, rifles and shotguns are just a few examples of what are being bought and sold on the app. The arms dealers are using hashtags (#) for pictures of the guns. When a picture appears, many of the gun enthusiasts go to that picture to see the gun and post a comment or two about their interest. The person selling the gun(s) then responds with more details about the gun being sold.
The public comments often lead to private conversations among the dealers and buyers over phone or e-mail. These people can’t get in trouble because it isn’t illegal. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives can’t do anything about it because it has no authority on private sales. Different states have different rules, so that also makes it harder to stop the trade.
“Illegal sales will always happen no matter what laws are implemented,” said Sacher. “Gun laws vary from state to state.”
Andrew agrees that gun laws are varied and complex, which makes it harder for members of law enforcement to enforce. “There are too many gun laws on the books now that are violated all the time,” said Andrew. “But there are not enough federal, state and local law enforcement officers available to enforce all the laws we have now. In addition, HIPPA laws prevent accessible databases that would prevent persons with mental or emotional issues from buying guns.” HIPPA stands for Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act, which restricts the general public from looking into other people’s personal information.
There is some speculation on whether the public would be surprised upon hearing about the gun sales taking place through Instagram. “I think the public may know. But if they don’t know, I don’t think it would be a surprise for most,” said Sacher.
However, Fairmont freshman Carrie Terrell had something to add. “People should know. We don’t want people to die because other people are buying guns on Instagram.”