Popular "gunfluencer" Hickok45, left, and musician Oliver Anthony, who went viral for his song "Rich Men North of Richmond." Credit: Hickok45/Youtube

YouTube Makes Sweeping Changes to Firearms Policy

On June 18, YouTube will implement a firearms policy prohibiting certain how-to videos and adding age restrictions for other gun content.

Later this month, YouTube will change its firearms policy by prohibiting certain how-to videos and adding age restrictions for other gun content. Supporters of the change say it's a step in the right direction as concerns about DIY guns are on the rise. Whereas critics say it's the result of a plot to silence gun rights advocates and advance an anti-gun agenda.

According to YouTube's policy page, beginning on June 18, the website will prohibit videos showing "how to remove safety devices" from firearms. And it will require viewers to be 18 or older to watch videos showing "homemade firearms, automatic firearms, and certain firearm accessories."

For content creators, the policy change means they cannot sell firearms or certain firearm accessories, specifically devices that enable or simulate automatic fire. And they can't link to gun retail sites either. They also cannot provide instruction for manufacturing firearms, ammo, silencers, bump stocks, or devices that enable automatic fire. Additionally, any gun content that does not violate YouTube policy will have age restrictions.

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If you violate the policy, YouTube will first remove the content and then notify you via email. For first-time offenders, the company will let you take a policy training course. However, if you violate the policy again within 90 days, you get a strike. And if you get three strikes, you're out.

What it means for the gun industry

While the fight over YouTube's policy is an extension of the overall gun debate, it could have a real-world impact on the gun industry and politics. Researchers say gun sellers and manufacturers are limited in where they can advertise, so they turn to social media or gun influencers to market their products. They say these "gunfluencers" represent cultural values that gun buyers want to embody as they promote products.

"Advertising is sort of a mirror or a reflection of social values, of things that people want to do and feel and experience. And advertising directs or gently influences the ways that people think and feel about products," said Aimee Huff, a business professor at Oregon State University who wrote a study on gun advertising, in an interview with OPB.

"These gunfluencers . . . have this really outsized role in promoting guns and in stitching together specific types of guns, like a modern sporting rifle, with a very specific ideology: the Second Amendment or 2A ideology," Huff added.

Why YouTube's firearms policy changed

Although YouTube has not released a statement about its policy change, most people agree that it happened because of lobbying by gun control advocates. The organization Everytown for Gun Safety has taken credit for the changes.

"For years, we've sent recommendations to YouTube regarding the extreme firearm content on its platform - much of which is easily accessible to children," said Justin Wagner, the group's senior director of investigations, in a statement. He added that the platform has a responsibility to "age-gate extreme gun content."

Over the years, Everytown has sent letters and recommendations to the company and even published a report linking social media to mass shooting attacks. Then, in April, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sent an open letter to YouTube. He asked the company to adjust its algorithm so videos showing how to make ghost guns and 3D-printed guns wouldn't be pushed to kids and adults.

Bragg said in a statement that he applauded "YouTube for implementing these important commonsense fixes to their community guidelines, which will further limit dangerous videos and minimize firearm content for minors."

In a statement, Erich Pratt, the senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, said through the policy change, the company "aims to push a sinister narrative to minors that firearms are evil. In turn, as younger generations come of age, they will not question or push back on further violations of our Second Amendment rights."