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20 June 2016

What happened to the rifle emoji?

Two new winter sports emoji were shot down at the last minute, seemingly because they included images of guns. 

By Barbara Speed

Should there be a rifle emoji?

According to an investigation released by BuzzFeed news this week, Apple and Microsoft say no. A new update to emoji, the series of tiny images available through most operating systems, is due to be released at the end of June by the Unicode Consortium, of which both Apple and Microsoft are voting members. And up to a relatively late stage of planning, the list of new emoji included both a rifle, and an image which showed a man shooting a pistol.

The update is partly themed around the Rio Olympics, and features a series of medals, boxing gloves, fencers and a goal net. (There’s also a juggler, perplexingly, despite the fact that juggling is not an Olympic sport.) The rifle was meant to symbolise competitive shooting, while the man shooting a pistol appears in an image of the “modern pentathalon”. Here are the proposed glyphs:

However, Unicode has confirmed that neither will appear in the official release, though were cancelled so late that they have already been coded as unicode – they will be available as the black images on the far left of the image above, but will not be coded into coloured emoji by any of the tech giants.

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A statement on the Emojipedia website notes that both have been “bumped” and are “no longer coming to an emoji keyboard near you”. 

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The rifle emoji in particular has been controversial since it was first suggested. A British gun control group spoke out against the gun’s inclusion to the BBC last October, saying:

“It would be familiarising and popularising the image of a weapon which is not a good idea.”

It’s hard to know where tech companies’ concerns were rooted (all the Unicode voting members were contacted by BuzFeed but did not respond) but according to a source who was at the discussions, no one objected to the emojis’ removal when it was raised by Apple and then Microsoft. While some may link the apparently anti-gun move to recent gun-related deaths in Orlando and Yorkshire, Apple reportedly raised its first objections at the April 2015 Unicode quarterly meeting.

It’s also worth noting that there is already a handgun, knife, and bomb emoji, and the source who spoke to BuzzFeed implied that the prior existence of a gun emoji was one reason why no members objected to the rifle’s cancellation.

Several young people have been arrested in the US for threatening use of the gun emoji online, and as Time magazine noted in February: “Cops are taking postings of gun emojis as legitimate threats.”

As such, it’s clear emoji aren’t so divorced from real life, or even crime, as we’d like to think – but any real anti-gun move from Unicode would surely involve removing its arsenal of weapons altogether, rather than simply refusing to expand it.