How web gi­ants wage war against guns

Ig­nor­ing Sec­ond Amend­ment rights as­saults the free mar­ket

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Tom Gre­sham

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 can not see this com­pany’s Face­book page. The com­pany prefers to re­main anoma­lous 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? Tom Gre­sham hosts the na­tion­ally-syn­di­cated ra­dio talk show “Tom Gre­sham’s Gun Talk” (guntalk­me­dia.com).

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