Yesterday I was on the telly. I was invited (why? No idea) onto BBC2’s The Daily Politics to talk about the non-scandal of guns on eBay. It’s a non-scandal not because gun crime isn’t on the rise or because you can’t get practically anything lethal somewhere on the net but because poor old eBay (for whom I hold no brief but you’ll probably kick yourself if you don’t check out this really cheap job lot of Apple printers) is getting it in the neck – again – for apparently enabling hordes of scumbags and miscreants to deal in death under the noses of the law and in defiance of every norm.
As usual, the truth lies elsewhere. eBay, as its nearly eight million UK members know very well, is actually a big, open and thoroughly friendly place, in which illegal activity is frankly difficult. Guns and replicas make up a vanishingly tiny proportion of the 3.4 Million rare beanie babies, Mark 1 Ford Capris and battered paperback editions of Under Milk Wood listed every day (I couldn’t find a single gun – unless you count this). If I wanted to buy a gun, in fact, the very last place I’d look would be such a transparent and easily-policed place as eBay.
I don’t want to be flippant about this: I could hardly be flippant on the telly anyway, since my fellow guest was there because her son had been shot in the face by another kid a few years ago (I wish they’d warned me about that), but we really must keep the risk of kids obtaining guns on eBay (and other sites) in proportion. It’s important because the burgeoning eBay economy is already a significant creator of jobs and wealth here and elsewhere. We mustn’t put up new barriers to participation.
It’s difficult for legislators and journalists to resist the ‘something must be done’ reflex but imposing new administrative burdens on web site owners in an attempt to control the sale of guns would be the equivalent of closing all the level crossings in the country in response to the weekend’s dreadful train accident: an entirely inappropriate knee-jerk reaction.