As YouTube bans firearms demonstrations, Utah firm launching its own pro-gun video platform

Owners of Utah Gun Exchange decry “censorship” on the Google-owned website.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bryan Melchior, and Sam Robinson owners of Utah Gun Exchange, Friday, March 23, 2018.

Sandy • With YouTube working to remove firearms demonstrations from its platform, a Utah company is gearing up to make an online haven for videos about all things related to guns.

“The pro-gun community has had enough of this crap,” said Bryan Melchior, co-owner of Utah Gun Exchange, a website that hooks up gun buyers with individual sellers and manufacturers — and, in the near future, will host a video platform for gun enthusiasts.

“What they’re doing at YouTube is censorship,” Melchior said Friday. “Utah Gun Exchange will be the next YouTube. … And we will never, ever, ever stomp on anybody’s rights.”

According to Bloomberg News, YouTube quietly tightened its rules for videos involving weapons this week. Starting in April, the Google-owned service will ban videos that promote firearms sales or link to websites that sell firearms and accessories. The site also will bar videos that give instructions on how to assemble firearms.

The move angered gun-rights advocates nationally. In a statement, the National Shooting Sports Foundation called the decision “troubling,” adding that owners of social media platforms should recognize their “broader collective responsibility since [they command] so much of today’s virtual public square.” (YouTube, as a corporate entity, is not bound by the First or Second amendments, which apply to government actions.)

Pavel Asparouhov, a senior at West High School and one of the organizers of Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Salt Lake City, said he believed YouTube’s actions serve “to not incentivize people to make these kinds of videos.”

Melchior said he and his business partner, Sam Robinson, have been looking at creating a gun-friendly video platform since they bought Utah Gun Exchange last year. YouTube’s decision, made in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 students and teachers, has strengthened the partners’ resolve.

The partners employ similar sales pitches. In an interview in the company’s Sandy headquarters, Robinson touted the site’s classified ads by saying “our goal is to become the Craigslist of the Second Amendment,” while Melchior said the site’s connections to firearms manufacturers will allow the site “to become the Amazon of the Second Amendment.”

Melchior also boasts the company’s efforts at registering like-minded gun supporters to vote and to encourage school safety programs that include free concealed-firearm training courses for teachers and school administrators.

Utah Gun Exchange has a channel on YouTube, which has nearly 2,000 subscribers. The company this month launched a weekly hourlong video podcast that covers guns and Second Amendment issues.

“YouTube is our largest window to the world,” Robinson said. He sees the videos as “an outreach program … to people who think they could not be a part of the firearms community.”

Other producers of gun content are scrambling to find alternatives to YouTube. One, InRange TV, announced this week it would begin posting its gun-related videos on the adult site PornHub.

Robinson attributes YouTube’s actions — along with other recent corporate decisions to, for example, raise the minimum age to purchase firearms — to “hoplophobia,” a term coined by a firearms instructor in the 1960s to describe “an irrational fear of guns.”

Asparouhov, preparing for Saturday’s student march from West High to the Utah Capitol in support of tighter firearms regulations, said companies like YouTube know that future consumers have grown up with school shootings and lockdown drills. He noted that he was born after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in suburban Denver, where 12 students and a teacher were killed by two classmates, who then killed themselves.

“I’m about to turn 18 — I’m about to get a job. I’ll be spending my own money, rather than my parents’,” Asparouhov said. “In reality, they’re just future-proofing their companies. … I think, at the end of the day, you have to vote with your wallet.”