The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution, but not in your text messages.
As a tech company, Apple doesn't have an obvious stake in the gun control debate. But a recently announced change to its emoji library suggests the Cupertino company is taking a stance on the issue.
In fall, when the new version of its operating system rolls out, what was previously a pistol emoji will be replaced by a green squirt gun.
In its announcement about the new set of emojis, Apple did not explicitly mention the gun. In addition to touting new options that make existing emojis more diverse and a rainbow flag, it referenced "beautiful redesigns of popular emoji." The only emoji that was a redesign of an existing emoji was the squirt gun.
In July 2015, the group New Yorkers Against Gun Violence published an open letter to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook asking the company to symbolically “disarm the iPhone” by getting rid of the gun emoji. It’s not clear whether the decision was in response to the letter. (Apple did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
Emojis are not made by Apple. They are selected, designed and coded by a nonprofit organization called the Unicode Consortium. The Unicode Consortium was incorporated in 1991 to standardize how text and characters are read by computers. Unicode ensures that when you type something on one kind of computer or device, it can be read by someone using any other computer or device.
Platforms like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and Facebook decide exactly how those characters will appear on the device you're using. A paper published earlier this year by researchers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities showed how different some emoji can look across devices.
In this case, Apple is reinterpreting how it will "read" the pistol emoji. Instead of depicting it as a metal revolver, it will show the green toy water pistol. Emoji encyclopedia Emojipedia's entry on the pistol character suggests it will still look like a gun if you view it on most other devices and platforms.
Jeremy Burge, founder of Emojipedia and a member of the Unicode Consortium, said the change will not require any input or updates from Unicode. Apple is just changing the design of an existing emoji. And it wouldn’t be the first company to make this particular change: On Microsoft devices, the pistol emoji looks like a toy ray-gun.
"Any vendor is free to change how they design each emoji, no matter how confusing it could be. For instance, Samsung uses some crackers instead of a cookie for the cookie emoji," he said in an email. "It’s confusing, but Unicode doesn’t have much to do with how each company designs its emojis."
It's not the first time Apple has opted against a gun emoji: In June, Apple asked the Unicode Consortium to exclude a scoped shooting rifle from the upcoming set of emojis. Unicode complied, and the rifle was scrapped.
Tell Jessica which emoji you’d replace on Twitter @jessica_roy.
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