Gun enthusiasts on the popular forum website Reddit were surprised Wednesday when they discovered a popular community featuring sales on firearms had been banned from the site.
The removal of the community known as /r/GunDeals was part of an update to Reddit's new policy regarding banning users who used to the site to facilitate transactions involving illicit and controlled materials like firearms, drugs, and alcohol. Several other subreddits, as community group's are known on the site, were also included in the ban.
"Moving forward, we are prohibiting transactions that are either illicit or strictly controlled," a Reddit spokesperson told Circa. "Communities focused on such transactions and users who attempt to conduct them will be banned from the site."
Some of the subreddits caught up in the ban included communities that swapped beer, scotch and cigars. Others were dedicated to markets on darknets, computer networks which can only be accessed with special software. But the former moderators of /r/GunDeals, which had more than 130,000 users, claim that their subreddit did not facilitate these types of transactions.
"/r/GunDeals was a community for link aggregation, which is the founding purpose of Reddit," former moderator nauticalmile told Circa via direct message. "Transactions were not being conducted on /r/GunDeals, rather it was a home for people to share links to external commercial websites."
It was on these external websites where the actual purchase of firearms, ammunition, and other accessories were made through traditional firearms dealers.
"/r/GunDeals was simply just a springboard for coupons on deal alerts," said user osirhc, in a comment on Reddit's announcements page. "And all transactions took place off Reddit through the proper and licensed channels."
Other users noted it was no different than any other coupon subreddit.
It's for this reason that nauticalmile feels /r/GunDeals was targeted unfairly.
"While /r/GunDeals has been shut down, Reddit seems to take no issue with accepting payment and running advertisements for some of the same companies often linked on /r/GunDeals, nor has a problem with discussion of activities outright prohibited by U.S. federal law (see /r/Trees, /r/Drugs, etc.)," they said in a statement posted to /r/Guns.
/r/Trees is a subreddit dedicated to marijuana, though it does no overtly say so. /r/Drugs is a forum for drugs of all kinds.
Reddit administrators addressed the /r/GunDeals ban directly while replying to a comment from another user.
"Because this policy facilitating the transactions, it impacts communities that are dedicated to connecting buyers and sellers," said the comment. "We want to emphasize, though that communities dedicated solely to discussion about guns and gun ownership are not impacted. [sic] by this change."
But many users felt the subreddit was being politically targeted, and expressed concern that Reddit may be losing what they see as its founding purpose: being open an open platform for discussion. There is no evidence available as of this publication that Reddit administrators targeted any community, including /r/GunDeals, out of political spite in the recent ban.
Reddit's change in policy came shortly after YouTube also made a change which effects content involving firearms. The popular video hosting site "recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories, specifically, items like ammunition, gatling triggers, and drop-in auto sears," said a YouTube spokesman in an email to Circa.
The policy could have profound effects for many popular YouTube creators, whose channels regularly feature content that could fall under the ban. Some of the more popular firearms channels have millions of followers.
Many users and creators have also claimed that the YouTube ban, which will begin to go into effect in April, is unfair. But the YouTube spokesperson claimed it was nothing new.
"We routinely make updates and adjustments to our enforcement guidelines across all of our policies," they told Circa.
Both YouTube and Reddit's changes of policy came just days before the March for Our Lives, a rally organized by students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month, which left 17 dead.
Editor's Note: an earlier version of this video noted GunDeals moderators were told communities about gun ownership would not be banned. This statement was actually made by the company in response to a user comment.