Gun Owners' YouTube Videos Are a Key to Understanding Exactly What They're Thinking
It was an ordinary day in 2011, when I found myself watching a YouTube video of a gun owner making a semi-automatic rifle discharge bullets rapidly, as if it were an automatic weapon.
My husband, a gun owner, watched firearms videos like this one. But I had never seen one. Intrigued, I sat down on the couch to absorb the imagery.
Hooking his thumb through his pants belt loop, the YouTuber demonstrated how pushing the gun forward, rather than pulling the trigger, allowed the gun’s recoil to “keep the gun going.”
In other words, he was bump firing his rifle.
I’m a criminal justice researcher. At the time, a flurry of thoughts popped into my mind. Aren’t citizens forbidden to own automatic weapons? Is it legal to make a video of a semi-automatic rifle performing like an automatic firearm? What about the 1930’s machine gun ban - is there a YouTube loophole of some sort?
This was 2011, seven years before a gunman at a country music festival in Las Vegas used a bump stock to make his shooting spree more effective and deadly, killing 58 people and injuring 851.
Watching that initial video led me to spend the next five years exploring online gun videos and gun owner communities. It also led to a moderation in my views on gun-related issues – something I believe resulted from the understanding and empathy I gleaned from those videos.
Video opens a window on world
My exploration would become the book “Guns on the Internet: Online Gun Communities, First Amendment Protections, and the Search for Common Ground on Gun Control,” forthcoming in August 2018.
That first video, and the many videos I would subsequently view, showed me how gun owners could legally share content that, in the case of bump stocks, could effectively render a particular gun control law moot.
Guns, part of fabric of life
For all the noise around gun control versus gun rights, there was a story that was missed by non-gun owners like me: how much these guns mean to those who own them.
I learned that gun owners share ideas, images of firearms and videos signaling to other gun owners and the greater online community the accepted norms, values and activities of gun subculture. They use hashtags like #freedom or #2A, for the Second Amendment, on a posting. They post key words and phrases such as “take our rights away,” “Patriot class,” and “lock ‘n load.”
Recent research suggests that individuals can form attachments to media personalities whom they do not know in real life.