Is Apple Wrong to Change the Gun Emoji?

Apple has replaced an emoji representing a real handgun with one of a green-and-orange water pistol. The Internet, as you might expect, is up in arms about this, claiming that Apple is weighing in on American gun violence. Liberal sources claim that the company is taking a stand; conservative ones bemoan that Apple’s symbolic gesture is meaningless.

Apple redesigning emojis is, in fact, nothing new. Emojis are not Apple technology; many companies have put their own spin on the Japanese icons since their debut in 1998. Apple first experimented with the colorful characters on OS X 10.7 Lion in 2011, although theoretically, OS X and iOS devices have been able to display them for much longer; remember, emojis are platform-agnostic.

However, Apple has been known to put its own spin on emojis, adding a Fitzpatrick scale for racially diverse emojis back in 2015, as well as visually tweaking the characters for Apple platforms here and there in general. Apple’s latest announcement promises “more than one hundred new and redesigned emoji characters” with the intention of bringing more gender diversity, as well as LGBT icons and family-friendly images.

Leah Gunn Barrett is the executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, an organization that drafted an open letter to Apple requesting that it “disarm the phone.” She believes that the water pistol emoji is a step in the right direction.

“We welcome Apple’s decision to dump the pistol emoji,” she told Tom’s Guide. “Apple has stood up to the bullying tactics of the NRA and gun industry by showing that there are many more life-affirming ways to express oneself than with a gun.”

Charles Duan, staff attorney at Public Knowledge, which deals with online free speech issues, considered things from the tech perspective.

"It's not possible to speculate as to Apple's state of mind in making this design change, but it does raise a few interesting compatibility questions," he told Tom's Guide. "What happens if an iPhone user sends what is meant as a funny text of a squirt gun, but an Android user receives it as a real gun?"

As for the NRA itself, it didn’t think much of Apple’s decision, painting it as an attack on a fundamentally conservative and populist position.

“In other news, another liberal, elitist company hates guns,” it wrote on Twitter, citing Apple’s decision. The gun advocacy group has had nothing else to say on the issue, save for a sarcastic “#shocker” hashtag, and another “#2A” label that draws attention to Second Amendment issues.

If you absolutely must send gun emojis to your friends, you can still do so on pretty much any platform that’s not Apple, including Android, Windows, Facebook, Twitter, Chrome and Firefox. If you are an iPhone owner and insist on using the real thing instead of a toy, you'll have to resort to typing out the word or using a GIF or image.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.