NBC News Goes After "Ghost Gun" YouTube Videos

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

When we last reported on NBC News here at Bearing Arms, it was on the decision by Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder to ban the network and its sister network MSNBC from the courthouse grounds after a field producer tried to follow a bus containing members of the jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. Now the network is back on our radar, and once again it’s for all the wrong reasons.

The press outlet, which depends on the First Amendment for its very existence, is out with a new hit piece on “ghost guns” and the YouTubers who document their own builds of unserialized firearms. In their report, NBC News flagged several channels that they say violate a company policy that forbids showing users how to build their own guns.

NBC News sent links to six videos — which combined accounted for more than 1.2 million hits — to YouTube’s parent company, Google, seeking comment on how it enforces its firearms policy. YouTube removed the videos within hours and said users have to comply with guidelines prohibiting videos that show how to make firearms.

But dozens of similar videos remain on the site — some on the same channels as the ones YouTube took down. The videos were posted from 2013 to 2021, and they have drawn more than 1,000 views to more than half a million.

The availability of videos on YouTube showing how to build guns alarmed some former law enforcement officials and gun control advocates, who called for the company to more proactively police its platforms.

“What does it say about your corporate moral leadership if you cannot live up to your own corporate ideals?” said MSNBC analyst Jim Cavanaugh, a former special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF. “It’s really kind of sad, if you think about it.”

Moral leadership, you say? Like the moral leadership shown by the ATF in Operation Fast and Furious? Or the sting operations in which the ATF was accused of racially profiling subjects? Or the undercover agents who let known felons walk away with firearms in a Milwaukee sting?

… a “known felon” went to the store for a drug deal. He showed an ATF agent a silver revolver he was willing to sell for $250. The agent wanted to buy it right then, but the felon wouldn’t sell it at that time because, the report said, he was planning to “retaliate against some people that had shot his cousin.”

He left the store with the gun. There was no outside cover team in place to follow the felon and stop his planned crime. Fortunately, law enforcement did not learn of a shooting by the felon who was eventually arrested by local law enforcement in Minnesota on unrelated charges. An ATF official called the lack of an outside team “an obvious flaw,” according to the report.

Not to defend YouTube and its anti-2A policies, but the idea that platforms can effectively police all of their content to ensure they comply with polices is about as realistic as thinking gun control can effectively prevent criminals from illegally obtaining firearms. And frankly, YouTube’s existing policies have already caused many 2A-related content producers to leave for platforms that won’t shut down their pro-Second Amendment speech.

“YouTube’s restrictions are keeping gun owners, especially the more than 11 million first-time gun buyers over the past two years, from accessing information that will help to teach safe and responsible firearm ownership and storage,” said Mark Oliva, the director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry.

Oliva said the foundation “supports the use of videos that demonstrate the lawful and safe use of firearms, including those firearms that are built in the home by those within their lawful right to possess firearms.”

I’ve got news for NBC; building your own firearm isn’t a crime under federal law (though many blue states are trying to change their own statutes to forbid the practice). Meanwhile, while these videos have been banned, I found other videos on YouTube showing me how to grow “magic mushrooms” at home, raise and harvest cannabis plants, get away with shoplifting, stealing passwords, and a lot of other things that actually are violations of federal law as well as YouTube policies.

To me, NBC’s story raises a couple of questions (beyond the obvious ones about their journalistic integrity). First, can YouTube and other platforms adequately enforce their own existing content policies. I would argue that the answer is “no.”

Secondly, should YouTube and other platforms even have policies that crack down on content that promote the legal exercise of a civil right? Again, I would say no, but I don’t think that we’re going to see any newfound respect for free speech or the right to keep and bear arms coming from Big Tech anytime soon. In fact, based on NBC’s latest report, we should probably expect a new round of 2A-related deletions and demonetizations as the company tries to show its commitment to restricting access to knowledge about guns, gun ownership, and our right to keep and bear arms in self-defense.