In the meantime, some states and cities — including New Jersey and Los Angeles — have passed their own laws banning ghost guns or requiring buyers to register them once they’re built.
But the laws aren’t focused on how people learn to build guns, leaving it up to online platforms to police themselves.
Garen Wintemute, the head of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, said videos showing how to build guns facilitate their production and should be a wake-up call for YouTube and other platforms to do a better job policing content.
“What YouTube and others need to consider is what complicity and what accountability do they face if they continue to allow that information to be provided, given the purposes for which it’s being put out,” Wintemute said.
But Second Amendment supporters say YouTube already aggressively enforces its rules and charge that it has gone too far in restricting firearm content. Some former YouTube users have moved to more niche alternative sites, such as Odysee or GunStreamer.
“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.”
“P80 Ralph,” who declined to provide his full name, runs a YouTube channel dedicated to making untraceable guns at home. In a video interview set up through the email account attached to his YouTube channel, Ralph said his curiosity was piqued when a co-worker showed him a picture of an AR-style rifle he’d built. He wondered, “How the hell do you build a gun?”
At first, Ralph said, he worried that people might do something bad with guns they had built after watching his videos. But he said he believes the Constitution gives people a right to bear arms — not just for hunting or self-defense, but also “to stand up against a tyrannical government.”
“Whoever is in charge of the whole thing here, this United States, they don’t want the knowledge out there,” he said. “They don’t want people to have firearms. They want the control. They want to be able to have power over everyone.”
One of Ralph’s videos was removed from YouTube after NBC News’ inquiry. He said he has been warned in the past and had other videos taken down. The platform also demonetized most of his content — even videos that aren’t about guns, he said.
But some gun control advocates insist that YouTube doesn’t go far enough. On Wednesday, the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety sent a letter calling on YouTube to better enforce its community guidelines.
“While law enforcement agencies like the FBI and ATF are working to curb this problem, it is imperative that YouTube work harder and smarter to monitor and regulate ghost-gun-related content,” the letter said. (YouTube didn’t immediately comment on the letter.)
Vincent Gazzani was one of several people shot by a man wielding a ghost gun in San Diego on April 22. Hit in the arm and chest, he nearly died. He has become an advocate for banning ghost guns, volunteering for the gun control groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.
Gazzani, 27, who lives in New Jersey, said he’d like the YouTube videos to be taken down. Doing so wouldn’t curb the spread of ghost guns, he said, but it might make it less likely that someone with bad intentions would be inspired to build one.
“Marketing ghost guns is just as bad as selling them,” he said.