YouTube introduced new guidelines that ban videos involving weapons, including videos showing how to assemble a firearm or install certain accessories such as high-capacity magazines.
The company will also ban videos that promote or link to websites selling firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, attachments that enable a semiautomatic rifle to fire faster. The company has faced significant criticism for hosting videos about guns, bombs and other deadly weapons; the move is certain to make it the latest battleground in a highly contentious debate on gun regulations in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which resulted in the deaths of 17 people after gunman Nikolas Cruz opened fire on classmates and faculty.
The decision comes days before Saturday’s March For Our Lives, a rally organized by survivors of the Parkland shooting.
YouTube has been a haven for gun rights advocates. A search for "gun assembly" yields 1,030,000 results, like the video below, which has been viewed more than 1,600,000 times.
Likewise, a search for “how to build a gun” yields more than 25,000,000 results, with instructions on how to assemble everything from pistols to AR-15s.
“We routinely make updates and adjustments to our enforcement guidelines across all of our policies,” a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement. “While we’ve long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories.”
Youtube will start enforcing their new policy next month, but at least two video bloggers have already had their content removed from the website. In a Facebook post, Spike's Tactical, a firearms company, said YouTube suspended their content due to “repeated or severe violations” of the website guidelines.
“Well, since we’ve melted some snowflakes on YouTube and got banned, might as well set IG and FB on fire!,” Spike's wrote.
In another post, Spike's said that "the Liberal Left" exists "to erode our rights, and the first step is to squelch our voice."
Meanwhile, InRangeTV, another channel devoted to firearms, announced that it would begin uploading its videos to PornHub. (PornHub did not respond to requests for comment.)
“YouTube’s newly released released [sic] vague and one-sided firearms policy makes it abundantly clear that YouTube cannot be counted upon to be a safe harbor for a wide variety of views and subject matter,” InRange TV wrote. “PornHub has a history of being a proactive voice in the online community, as well as operating a resilient and robust video streaming platform.”
Other advocates for gun rights also weighed in.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has more than 200,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel, said the guidelines “provides cause for concern.”
The Firearms Trade Association (NSSF) also issued a response, via a statement on its website:
YouTube’s announcement this week of a new firearms content policy is troubling. We suspect it will be interpreted to block much more content than the stated goal of firearms and certain accessory sales. Especially worrisome is the potential for blocking educational content that serves an instructional and skill-building purpose. YouTube’s policy announcement has also served to invite political activists to flood their review staff with complaints about any video to which they may proffer manufactured outrage.
Much like Facebook, YouTube now acts as a virtual public square. The exercise of what amounts to censorship, then, can legitimately be viewed as the stifling of commercial free speech, which has constitutional protection. Such actions also impinge on the Second Amendment.
The organization added that YouTube is following a precedent already set by Facebook:
In what we see as a parallel situation, Facebook has repeatedly shut down the pages of legitimate and reputable firearms retailers that were following Facebook’s own rules. The interpretation depended on the reviewers, the vast majority of whom have little familiarity with our business practices, let alone our products, and many of whom do not even do their work from American soil.
Both First and Second Amendment rights are essential to the liberty we enjoy as American citizens. In a very real sense, the de facto curtailment of First Amendment right of its firearm related business users, YouTube is edging toward simultaneously infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of the customers of these affected businesses.
Gun control advocates celebrated the move, but the overall response appears to be mixed.
The White House has not yet commented on YouTube's policy changes. President Donald Trump, who has pledged to stand by the NRA and its members, has proposed arming educators in the wake of the Parkland shooting, as well as recruiting retired law enforcement officials and military veterans to serve as another line of defense against potential mass shooters in our nation's schools.