A gun safety group has criticized Facebook for taking what The Telegraph reports is millions of dollars in advertising money to sell permits to carry concealed weapons to people who lack real-life training in handling firearms.
The Telegraph quoted David Chipman, a senior policy adviser at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence as well as a former SWAT team officer who has a concealed carry permit:
A company has choices to make, to look if it’s in the interests of their company to support people carrying guns that haven’t been trained to use them.
I would just want [Facebook] to make that decision with eyes wide open. You don’t get that training by answering multiple guess questions on the internet.
Facebook’s records reportedly show that the platform has taken in at least $3.7 million since May, advertising what’s called the “Virginia loophole”.
The Virginia loophole
Virginia, a gun-friendly state, allows people from other states to take an online class, pay a $100 fee and, after a background check, get a concealed “non-resident” carry license.
As local Texas station WFAA reported in May 2018, some other US states will honor the Virginia non-resident license, in spite of applicants never having to show that they know how to load a gun or shoot safely.
Showing that basic level of gun knowledge is a basic requirement to get a license in Texas. In fact, Texas law requires applicants for a concealed carry permit to complete at least four hours of classroom training, and to demonstrate that they can load and shoot a gun at a range.
But Texas residents, and those from other states, can skip right over the requirement and get a license online via the Virginia loophole. It’s as simple as answering 10 easy questions on a mobile phone, without ever actually touching a firearm or stepping foot inside a gun instruction classroom.
Thousands of Texans have obtained the Virginia non-resident permits. It’s unclear how many of the 50 US states honors Virginia’s non-resident carry permits. The Telegraph reports that it’s 30 states, while various sites such as this one say it’s 28. At any rate, it seems to be that more states honor it than don’t.
Who’s buying ads urging people to exploit the Virginia loophole?
According to the Telegraph, all those $3.7m worth of Facebook ads – 16,000 of them – are being taken out by a company called Concealed Online: a California-based company that put together that 10-question online test and profits from the fees paid by those getting permits.
Facebook has dubbed Concealed Online a “political advertiser”. It’s reportedly the third biggest such advertiser, after politicians Donald Trump and Beto O’Rourke.
It’s also a company that’s received an “F” rating – the lowest possible rating – from the US Better Business Bureau (BBB). In 2017, the BBB opened an investigation into Concealed Online, which advertises on Facebook that it can get consumers a permit to carry a concealed weapon…
…specifically – and this is at the heart of the complaints that have earned the company an “F” rating – it was advertising, via Facebook and Instagram, that it could get you a permit in states that don’t recognize concealed carry permits.
One such consumer complaint that the BBB received in October:
I paid 74.00 for the concealed online they sent me a paper that said I need to fill out all this other stuff and send them a 100.00. I want my money back there was nothing said about having to have another 100.00, or all the other stuff they want. I just want my money back I am sending these papers back to them. They never explained none of this.
Text from one of its ads, which you can view on Facebook’s ad archive:
YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THIS! A now ALMOST GONE 2018 Timesaver Law Allows You to Become Eligible ONLINE to Carry Concealed!
But you have to act NOW, Gun Control Democrats are Planning on Banning the Law!
Start By Answering 6 Simple Questions and Get Qualified in Minutes! Laws are changing SOON⌛️ so don’t blow it! You can do it all ONLINE — right on your mobile phone or desktop computer.
Join 3 MILLION Americans who have already tapped into this Legal LOOPHOLE. But the clock ⏰ is ticking. The Democrats are pushing their agenda, so HURRY BEFORE TIME RUNS OUT ON YOU!
According to the BBB, the company never returned its calls. By 13 November, however, it had inserted disclaimers on its website, including pop-ups, reminding consumers that the permit is only valid in the State of Virginia and the other US states that honor this permit.
Facebook: Hey, they aren’t selling guns, so it’s free speech
Facebook bans ads for weapons of any kind, be they paintball guns, bb guns, firearm silencers, pepper spray, tasers, nunchucks, fireworks or explosives, among other advertising contraband.
Safety courses for firearm training or licenses are allowed, however. So is “political advertising.” Facebook told the Telegraph that it’s reviewed the Virginia loophole ads and found that they don’t violate its policies. Rather, the company considers them to be “political advertising” because they include “advocacy” of gun laws.
The Telegraph quoted a Facebook spokesperson:
Our goal is to increase transparency on Facebook and prevent foreign interference in elections. This is why we have implemented the authorization process, including requiring a ‘paid for by’ disclosure, and released a searchable Ad Archive.
Separately, we do not allow weapon sales in ads on Facebook, which is outlined in our advertising policies.