Starting in September, Apple will make another update to its iconic and useful emojis.
As part of the update, the company is getting rid of the pistol emoji and replacing it with a green water gun.
While Apple hasn’t officially addressed the reasons for the swap, it seems pretty clear that, after another year filled with horrific gun violence, the company is responding in some small way to America’s frustration with gun culture.
Before I continue, let’s get one thing straight:
No, of course swapping the pistol emoji for a water gun is not going to solve America’s gun problem.
You will never see a news story with the headline: “New Water Gun Emoji Directly Responsible for Decline in Gun Violence.”
Ask yourself another question: “Is one person recycling water bottles going to solve global warming?” No, of course not.
Is recycling those water bottles still the right thing to do? Will it still help make a small dent of progress in the face of an overwhelming challenge? Yes.
Like it or not emojis are a big part of our cultural lingo.
They’re not the biggest, most important, or most central part of our culture, but millions of people use them regularly to communicate, laugh, make plans, and occasionally to represent body parts (“Peach and eggplant emoji” to you as well, good sir).
Which is why emojis have been updated on multiple occasions to better represent the times we’re in.
In 2015, a variety of skin tones were added to help represent people of different races, same-sex couples and families were added to help represent people of different sexual orientations, and this latest update will also include a pride flag and a more diverse array of female emojis, after an official bid from Google.
There’s nothing wrong with adding and changing emojis to be more representative of the things we talk and care about, while also acknowledging that the cartoon keyboard in our phones is not the axis on which the most critical conversations of our culture turn.
But I digress. Back to the revolver emoji. It’s already pretty troubling.
Aside from being yet another byproduct of our gun-obsessed culture, the gun emoji has been a key factor in a few real-life incidences in which the police got involved.
In February 2016, a 12-year-old got in trouble with the police after posting a message on Instagram containing the gun emoji along with the bomb and knife emoji. In Brooklyn, New York, a teenager was arrested on terror charges after making a perceived threat to police officers using emojis. His charges were eventually dropped.
As far as people being frustrated at gun culture, though, you probably don’t need reminding that 2016 has been as close to a tipping-point year as we’ve ever had in recent memory.
Multiple police-involved shootings, a horrific massacre at a nightclub in Orlando, an outright attack on the Dallas Police Department, and hundreds of mass-shooting deaths have created an environment where lawmakers are (finally, maybe, possibly, hopefully) ready to step up and do something.
People have also been taking out their frustration toward the lack of action on gun control in little ways, like defacing posters for the film “Jason Bourne,” which prominently feature actor Matt Damon holding a gun.
People have had it with a culture that consistently fetishizes and glorifies guns, and replacing the gun emoji with a water pistol is a small way to lessen the presence of guns in daily conversation.
No, the water pistol emoji isn’t going to solve America’s problem with gun violence, or make you dinner, or tie your shoes for you, or make “True Detective” great again, or anything else.
We still need to work on gun control. We still need to stand up to gun lobbyists and politicians and others who stand by, complicit, as gun violence continues to claim more lives in America than anywhere else in the world.
In the meantime, we can also appreciate that the revolver emoji is now a more fun and less deadly water pistol.
It’s a small gesture that shows that we, as a people, with our incredible technology and advanced methods of communication, don’t need a little cartoon gun to live our lives or communicate with each other.