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Booming Social Media Gun Groups Make Private Sales Easy

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Mireya Villarreal
A native Texan, Mireya was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley....
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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - No waiting, no hassle, and no background checks… If you want to buy a gun you could go to a store and jump through hoops or you just jump online.

You can’t get guns on Craigslist or eBay, but more and more people are finding their firearms through social media sites.

Private gun sales are not illegal and neither is using social media to do it. But buying a gun, no questions asked, within minutes has some people accusing Facebook and Instagram of facilitating irresponsible gun sales. Now, they’re asking the social media giants to take a closer look at their private group policies.

Type the words “gun trade” in a Facebook search and it won’t take more than a second to find someone selling a gun near you. Private groups, set up like a chat room, allow people to easily buy, trade, or sell guns and ammunition.

“I don’t have a love affair with weapons. But I do love the idea of owning them,” Allen Manning told us.

During the day Manning works for CBS 11, but when he’s off he spends time hunting or target shooting. Looking to sell a hunting rifle, Manning decided to join a local gun trading group on Facebook. Within minutes of posting his pictures he had several offers.

“I feel a little bit safer here because most of the people I’ve seen on here have been straight forward,” Manning explained. “They wanted to sell or buy or they had questions.”

After running a background check on a potential buyer, Manning agreed to a price and exchange location the same day he posted the gun.

Private sales like this, person to person, are completely legal whether they’re in a newspaper or online. While Manning did a background check on his buyer, neither it nor any paperwork is required during the process. And that accessibility has some calling for change.

A group called Mothers Demand Action posted a video on YouTube, pointing out all the gun sales they’d found on Facebook. The group wants tougher posting policies on Facebook and Instagram. In a letter to chief executives for both companies, founder of Mothers Demand Action, Shannon Watts wrote “Other online platforms including Craigslist, eBay, and Google+ have already prohibited these sales. I ask that you put an end to this completely unregulated social media gun show.”

Two lawmakers in New York are so concerned, they’ve started a petition urging background checks on gun sales made through social media.

It’s cases like this one we found out of Portland that have advocates worried. A convicted felon was busted for trying to sell guns on social media.

“I think the fear is criminals are going to go on those websites and buy guns. Is that what is going to happen here,” I-Team Investigative Reporter Mireya Villarreal asked.

“I can’t say it’s not going to happen. But they’re more inclined to maybe go to a gun show,” Tom Crowley answered.

Crowley is a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the federal group that regulates gun sales. He worked in the Dallas area for years before retiring.

“What they’re doing is having somebody buy guns for them, legally, through straw purchases,” Crowley noted. “That’s the main way criminals get their guns.”

Crowley says straw purchases, like what the I-Team exposed last year, are their biggest concern.

But he says if you are going to buy or sell guns through social media, protect yourself by keeping detailed records.

“They might get name, phone number or address,” Crowley suggested. “That way if somewhere down the road that gun is involved in a crime and it gets traced, law enforcement will be able to continue the trace.”

Facebook, which also owns Instagram, did not want to be interviewed for this story. But they do tell us they are a communications platform just like a phone company or email service and they don’t believe they are facilitating gun sales.

In a statement to CBS 11, Matt Steinfeld, a Facebook media representative, points out, “You can’t buy things on Instagram and Facebook, nor can you promote the sale or use of weapons in advertising. We encourage people who come across any illegal activity to report it to us.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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