In 2010, the Unicode consortium approved of a new emoji called Pistol. And companies like Apple added it to their platforms. Most of them created realistic designs for the emoji, modeled after real-life pistols. While Microsoft’s looked more like a ray gun from a science fiction movie. But in iOS 10, Apple was the first to update the emoji. From a real pistol to a plastic water gun. Other companies like Google and Samsung followed suit, but why was this change made?
Well, as gun violence in the US began rising dramatically from 2014, communities began taking more dramatic measures of prevention. In Columbus, Ohio, a ten-year-old boy pointed his finger like a gun and pretended to shoot one of his classmates in the head. This resulted in suspension for the day, with the school’s principal sending home three newsletters reminding parents that any kind of gun play was forbidden at school.
Two years later, a twelve-year-old girl in Fairfax Virginia was charged with threatening her school because she posted a message on Instagram that included a bomb, knife and gun emojis and the phrase “meet me in the library.” The same year, a twenty-two-year-old man in France was sentenced to three months in prison for texting his girlfriend a gun emoji, which the court considered to be a ‘real threat.’
These sorts of incidents sparked a worldwide debate over gun safety, and how insinuations of violence should be handled. From these debates emerged a campaign from a group called New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. They published an open letter requesting Apple replace the gun emoji. Calling it, “a symbolic gesture to limit gun accessibility”. Many people supported the idea, arguing that removing the emoji would prevent misunderstandings and unnecessary arrests.
So, in fall 2016 that’s exactly what Apple did. Replacing the realistic pistol emoji with a green plastic squirt gun. Soon after, other companies followed suit. So, while some may see it as an overreaction, Apple felt removing gun imagery from their platform was the right decision.