This article is part of Reason's special Burn After Reading issue, where we offer how-tos, personal stories, and guides for all kinds of activities that can and do happen at the borders of legally permissible behavior. Subscribe Now and get fast first class delivery of the July issue at no extra cost!
Reason has a new video out today explaining how to put together a homemade handgun using some very simple tools and parts you can buy online.
But you won't find it on our YouTube channel. After the March for Our Lives rally, YouTube announced that it would no longer allow users to post videos that contain "instructions on manufacturing a firearm."
Our video and its accompanying article are part of a package of stories in Reason's "Burn After Reading" issue. It includes a bunch of how-to's, including how to bake pot brownies, how to use bitcoin anonymously, how to pick the lock on handcuffs, and how to hire an escort.
The whole issue is a celebration of free speech and our way of documenting how utterly futile of all kinds of prohibitions can be.
We made a video showing how easy it is to DIY a Glock because we wanted to show how the First Amendment reinforces the Second Amendment. If a bunch of journalists can build a handgun in their kitchen, we can assume it'll be pretty hard to keep guns out of the hands of motivated criminals.
If YouTube prevents us from uploading the video, have they violated our First Amendment rights?
"YouTube of old days was this amazing thing that has become the digital library of Alexandria on the Internet," says Karl Kasarda, the co-host of InRangeTV, a weekly YouTube show about guns. The show used to survive on ad revenue, until YouTube started de-monetizing certain forms of content. Once YouTube made it impossible for Kasarda to make money on its platform, he started posting his content to other places, including PornHub.
Last October Prager University, a conservative video production shop, sued YouTube, saying it had restricted the audience for content and alleging that the company was "unlawfully censoring its educational videos and discriminating against its right to freedom of speech."
But here's the thing: YouTube is a private platform. There is nothing in the First Amendment (or the Second) that requires them to host our gun video. Reason can turn down articles for any cause that we choose. We can do it because we don't like the color of the author's hair, or because we don't like the font she used in her pitch email. We wouldn't be violating a single constitutional right by doing so.
We wish YouTube would run our video. It's awesome. But equally awesome is YouTube's right—our right—not to run content we don't like.
Karl Kasarda is correct that YouTube is the closest thing we have to the Library of Alexandria. It still doesn't mean they have to carry our video.
YouTube is hardly the first to test this principle. In 1972, a teachers union president who was running for state legislature sued The Miami Herald, insisting it run an editorial he had written after he was attacked in its pages. The Supreme Court correctly ruled that ordering a newspaper to print an editorial violates the First Amendment. After all, a newspaper is "more than a passive receptacle."
Prager University argued that YouTube isn't entitled to the same editorial discretion as The Miami Herald because it advertises itself as a "platform for free expression" that's "committed to fostering a community where everyone's voice can be heard." A federal judge, thankfully, dismissed the Prager lawsuit, rejecting the company's argument that YouTube is comparable to a "government entity" and thus must be open-access. A slew of other judges have arrived at the same conclusion.
YouTube deserves the same editorial latitude those judges gave to The Miami Herald in the 1970s and that Reason enjoys today.
And that's one of the things our new gun video is celebrating. If YouTube doesn't want to post it to their site, its loss. We'll just post it to another platform. That's what the free and open internet is all about. So if you want to see our video, you can watch it here at Reason.com—or head over to PornHub and see how to make your very own unregistered firearm.
Edited by Todd Krainin. Narrated by Katherine Mangu-Ward. Written by Jim Epstein and Katherine Mangu-Ward. Cameras by Meredith Bragg.