Apple to ‘disarm’ iPhones

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

In a few months, iPhone users will be able to illustrate a text with rainbow flags, female athletes, professionals and single-parent families, but not guns.

This fall, the pistol emoji will be removed from iPads, iPhones and be replaced with a lime-green water gun in the iOS 10 software update, which will add over 100 new and redesigned emojis to Apple devices, the technology company announced on Aug. 1.

The replacement follows a Twitter campaign called #disarmtheiphone, headed by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit activist group that advocates for safer gun laws in the state of New York.

The initiative, originally pitched to NYAGV by interns at New York advertising group BBH Barn, has urged Apple’s Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook to “disarm” emojis since last summer, said Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

The call to action came amidst the Charleston church shooting in South Carolina, the Lafayette movie theater shooting in Louisiana and the on-camera murders of news reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward of CBS in Virginia.

Barrett told the Pioneer that the campaign was a symbolic initiative to raise awareness of gun violence in the United States. “Our culture is saturated with gun violence,” she said. The idea was to “send a message to other tech companies and to the wider media community that we need to do something in America to stop glamorizing gun violence.”

Barrett became involved in the gun control movement in 1999, two years after her brother Greg Gunn was killed by a gunshot wound to the head at his business in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was 40 years old. She joined NYAGV’s board in 2011 and became executive director in 2013.

NYAGV is currently focusing on enacting universal background checks and closing the “loopholes” for people who don’t purchase firearms through licensed dealers. Barrett stated that the group aims to influence Congress to lift the 1996 ban on firearms research in the CDC, make firearm trafficking a felony, repeal the 2005 immunity law that makes it illegal to hold gun manufacturers responsible for murders committed with the firearm, ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and impose national licensing and registration on all gun sales.

There were 34,531 firearm-related incidents in 2016; 8,826 of these, deaths, 18,472 injuries and 242 mass shootings, reports the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that compiles data about gun violence from 1,500 law enforcement and government organizations daily. “This is entirely preventable,” said Barrett. “No other developed country has to undergo this carnage from a consumer product.”

“A cultural shift needs to happen, away from the idea that guns make you powerful and toward the notion that a gun makes you weak and endangers you and others, which is the reality,” said Barrett.

Between 1994 and 2014, over 180 million applicants for firearm purchases or transfers were subject to background checks, according to findings by the U.S. Department of Justice. Roughly 1.3 percent of 15 million applicants were denied a permit in 2014; 42 percent of which were due to felony convictions, charges, arrests and indictments. Approximately 1,300 state, local and federal entities conduct background checks on people who purchase firearms or permits.

“It’s important to know that so far not one law has been proposed that would have prevented any of the recent mass shooting incidents…Because while the laws take guns out of the hands of good guys who could defend themselves, they do nothing to take guns out of the hands of criminals,” Craig DeLuz, legislative and public affairs director of the Firearm Policy Coalition told the Pioneer. The FPC is a non-partisan, grassroots organization that advocates for second-amendment rights of Americans through activism.

Apple didn’t explicitly address the pistol replacement in its press release, but stated that the emoji updates were part of an effort to “reflect the diversity of people everywhere.” Apple has received its fair share of criticism, dating back to when the company halted the creation of a rifle emoji in mid-production in June. Critics have also voiced concerns about censorship, shining a light on other emojis that implicate violence, such as the knife and bomb.

“It’s odd that a company which has fought for free speech and privacy rights would through its own actions subvert speech regarding another fundamental right; that being the right to keep and bear arms,” said DeLuz.

The emojis will be created by the Unicode Consortium, the governing body that oversees coding standards for emojis and software worldwide.