Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democratic Senator, is leading the call for YouTube to tighten its ban on videos that show how to make "ghost guns" untraceable.
On Monday, the letter of senators was sent to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. This follows a December NBC News investigation that revealed dozens YouTube videos that showed how to assemble "ghost weapons." These guns are largely unregulated in most US states and almost impossible to trace due to their lack of serial numbers. This is a growing concern for law enforcement in the face of rising gun crime. They can be made at home using a kit that anyone can purchase online.
YouTube removed videos cited by NBC News, as well as videos Everytown for Gun Safety flagged in a December email to YouTube. However, other videos with similar content are still available on the site.
The senators sent a letter to Wojcicki, stating that they had spoken to YouTube officials and promised to examine the videos for violations of YouTube's guidelines. Since 2018, YouTube has prohibited anyone from building guns. According to the letter, however, a researcher found "dozens" of videos about how to make ghost guns after that review.
The senators stated that YouTube's policies regarding gun-related videos must be "enforced" and "forced to enforce strongly" in order to make any difference.
"It cannot possibly be that YouTube is completely reactive," the letter stated. "Removing these types of videos only when news organizations call public attention to violational content, when gun violence prevention activists send letters listing specific YouTube video violations to its Community Guidelines or when Congress staff reach out to raise concerns."
YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi stated in an email to NBC News Tuesday that the company had removed more than 280,000 videos it deemed dangerous or harmful in the third quarter 2021. This includes videos that violate its firearms policy.
Choi stated that "this work is ongoing" and that "our teams will continue to work hard on improving the policies and systems to detect and remove violative video quickly."
YouTube has yet to respond to the Sens' letter. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.); Christopher Murphy, D.Conn.; Cory Booker (D-N.J.); and Edward Markey (D-Mass.
This letter was sent on the fourth Anniversary the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Doug High School in Parkland (Florida) that resulted in 17 deaths. YouTube declared it had banned videos showing how to make firearms, even ghost guns, in March 2018. This was days before the "March for Our Lives" gun control rally in Washington, organized by Parkland survivors.
Ghost guns have seen a surge in popularity over the past five years. According to data, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 1,750 ghost guns were recovered by local law enforcement from possible crime scenes in 2016. In 2018, this number had increased to 3,776. It was 8,712 in 2020, the last year ATF reported data.
Seizure spikes have been reported in cities as far as New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Many high-profile cases, such as a fatal school shooting or an attack on police officers, have been linked to ghost guns.
The Biden administration is finalizing the rule which would regulate major parts used in building ghost guns the same way fully assembled firearms. This rule would require gun manufacturers to include serial numbers on these parts so that law enforcement can track them down to their buyers if they are used in a crime. The rule would require that dealers conduct background checks on anyone who purchases the parts. Based on public feedback, the rule is currently being revised and will be finalized in the latter part of this year.