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11.2.15: Tom's Op-Ed - How Web Giants Wage War Against Guns
How Web Giants Wage War Against Guns
Ignoring Second Amendment rights assaults the free market
By Tom Gresham
Tom's article was originally published in The Washington Times on Monday, October 26, 2015
New, massive players entering the gun rights battle on the side of those who would restrict individual rights are changing the political playing field in stealthy, insidious and possibly effective ways.
America's 100-plus million gun owners expect constant assaults on their rights from elected politicians, much of the media and the gun ban lobby. Through individual and collective lobbying (contacting their representatives as set out by the Founders of our government), and challenging the misinformation and even lies in the media, the men and women who make up the 99.9 percent of gun owners who do not commit crimes answer the call to fight discrimination and bigotry that labels as undesirables a third to half the adults in the United States.
These people have no recourse, however, to a massive censorship campaign currently underway - one which blocks the free exchange of information as well as stifles commerce. This isn't the government at work, but is being done by the giant companies that dominate the Internet. Google, Twitter, PayPal and Facebook all have established policies blocking ads and payments for guns, gun parts, gun accessories or even optics that can be attached to firearms. These massive companies have become the superhighways, the interstates, of Web commerce. Blocking access to customers using these portals impacts companies large and small the same as it would a retailer on a main thoroughfare that suddenly had its signs removed and faced a barrier shielding the view from the road.
Google blocked firearms ads from Google Shopping. Twitter's ad policy blocks weapons, even when the firearms are for competition and hunting. PayPal will not allow its online payment system to be used for legal firearm purchases. Facebook arbitrarily shuts down pages it deems to be about weapons, even when there are no firearms being sold. One major online company that sells optics (scopes and binoculars) and flashlights had its Facebook page shut down without warning, and appeals have - so far - fallen on deaf ears. Hundreds of thousands of customers suddenly cannot see this company's Facebook page. The company prefers to remain anonymous to avoid endangering its appeal.
Despite the misleading wailing of the gun ban lobby, guns sold across state lines must be shipped to a licensed firearms dealer, where the buyer must appear in person, submit to a background check so the FBI can approve the purchase, and only then can the sale go through. Yes, the FBI must approve each and every purchase. All laws apply to locating a firearm through the Web, just as they do in locating a gun through a newspaper advertisement. There is no online "gun loophole."
The situation drips with irony as Google et al. rail against Internet censorship by the government while they censor legal commerce from their sites. Because this isn't censorship by the government, it is not a First Amendment issue, making it virtually impossible to fight.
This stealth campaign to wipe out firearm retailers isn't constrained to private companies. Operation Chokepoint, created by the U.S. Justice Department, working through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., essentially threatened banks with "investigations" if they did business with undesirable companies. Included in the list of "high risk" companies were firearms dealers - retailers who operate under tight regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as the FBI. Every single firearm purchase from these retailers must be approved by the FBI, yet the Department of Justice pressured banks to close the accounts of gun stores or deny them financial services.
Activists for the rights of gun owners can fight in the open when elected politicians call for restrictions or bans. It's much more difficult - even impossible - when the attacks come from those who control the gateways to much of the Web, or from unnamed bureaucrats doing the dirty work of a politically motivated Justice Department.
It's the ultimate irony that these attacks on legal and highly regulated commerce in firearms come just as we see government reports that over the last 20 years, murders are down by huge numbers, so-called "gun crime" is down by more than 40 percent, and accidental firearms deaths of adults and children are at an all-time low. During this same time tens of millions of Americans have become new gun owners, tens of millions of guns have been purchased, and more than 10 million people have been licensed to carry loaded guns for their own protection. More guns, less crime, to coin a phrase.
One wonders if those who think it's OK for the Web giants to do this to gun owners might have a different response if these same restrictions blocked information on issues they support.
Blocking the flow of information on the Web is the newest form of book burning.
A question to be asked: When do the restrictive actions of a small handful of companies controlling much of the information on the Web become a legitimate area for review by government?
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- Tom Gresham hosts the nationally-syndicated radio talk show "Tom Gresham's Gun Talk" (guntalkmedia.com).