By Guy J. Sagi
Gun bloggers are a vanishing breed. You might take this as an early warning sign the gathering storm intent on inflicting fatal damage to the Second Amendment is gaining strength, and the ability to share an enthusiasm for firearms is the initial victim.
The big gun sites still stand, actively protecting and educating. Many of the smaller forecasters who so effectively mobilized a regional response are gone. In their wake, they leave gun owners less informed and underprepared for the long-term siege approaching with historic implications.
Firearm owners are among the most active, informed and engaged flavor of enthusiasts today. We rely on timely information to respond and make our voices heard politically. We crave fresh information, whether it’s on the latest and greatest product or history of our passion. With print publications struggling to survive and maintain a precarious newsstand foothold, bloggers and vloggers fill the void.
“Firearms enthusiasts and voters who care about the Second Amendment have long known they can’t trust the mainstream media to cover this critical issue accurately, so they seek more reputable and less biased sources for information,” explained Amy Hunter, NRA-ILA spokesperson. “Gun bloggers have an enormous impact because they cover firearms and the Second Amendment without the ignorance and hostility of many traditional news outlets.
“Gun bloggers have an enormous impact because they cover firearms and the Second Amendment without the ignorance and hostility of many traditional news outlets.”
A Tough Pre-Requisite
Average enthusiasts probably should think twice before starting a gun blog, according to a pair of longtime bloggers who’ve managed to survive and thrive through tough times.
The primary requirement for longevity, according to Miguel at Gunfreezone.net is, “Passion, period. I have not shot competitive for a long while, but that was not the idea behind the blog anyway, it was an extra feature,” he explained in an e-mail. “But may it be a blog about Glocks or Ravens or reloading, passion will transmit and your readers will enjoy it (OK, most of them).”
“For me, it was a passion for the rights of the individual and the system of government established to protect those rights.” -Kevin Baker
Kevin Baker, at The Smallest Minority, explained that’s what initially drove him to blogging, too.
“For me, it was a passion for the rights of the individual and the system of government established to protect those rights. Seeing them eroded, both deliberately and (sometimes worse) unconsciously really angered me.”
The pair have managed to maintain the mission for more years. Along the way their efforts have informed and entertained tens of thousands of enthusiasts. But make no mistake, there’s a price attached to that dedication.
Hazard On The Horizon
“When I started blogging in 2003, I was angry, so I posted a LOT. I’ve mellowed some with time,” Baker wrote. “Then I burned out. You only have so much to say. After 10-12 years, you’ve said it all multiple times. ‘New’ is hard to come by.”
It’s not all fun and games. “At first you are happy somebody is actually reading you and then you realize ‘Oh crap, I need content,’ and that is when you realize you have taken on a job that requires effort as you need to maintain your readership,” Miguel explained. “My blog’s orientation is political and self-defense mindset. It expanded to a bit more political stuff with the introduction of J. Kb. as co-blogger, and he brought a younger voice to the mix. Very happy with my decision.”
“Many people start blogging and drop it after a couple of months because it is a dedicated thing to do,” Miguel summarized. There are other factors at work, too.
Parasitic Social Media
When asked if gun blog disappearance is disproportionately large, Baker responded, “I think that’s true of blogs of all genres. Blogging had its day, but it’s been supplanted by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Blogging is for people with an attention span. There are still a few of us, but….”
Miguel agreed “friends” and “likes” are taking their toll.
“I would hazard a guess that Social Media has taken a bit out of blogging, but blogs are the last place where you can say ‘goat f***er’ and not end up with a seven-day suspension by an unknown or automated censor. If somebody does not like what I wrote, at best they can just leave me a nasty comment.”
Blogs are the last place where you can say ‘goat f***er’ and not end up with a seven-day suspension by an unknown or automated censor.
There’s more to it than social media parasitic effect on unique visitors, though. Bloggers and vloggers (video bloggers) who specialize in firearms usually aren’t in it to get rich. But having the revenue to keep the lights on and the coffee flowing is important. Even those whose only goal is educating the public and preserving the right to keep and bear arms need to pay bills, after all. A few dollars help when they invest so much time, effort and energy.
The Ads Aren’t Working?
One way to recover costs and rationalize the work is to sign up for Google Ads. The return’s typically not much. But once Google AdSense installs, ads drop into the web page automatically and bloggers get a modest share of the proceeds with very little headache.
The predominantly left-leaning executives in Silicon Valley aren’t content with those minute stipends, though. A late-August e-mail went out to “AdSense Publishers” that explained, “In September 2019, we’re launching changes to some of our content policies across our publisher products (AdSense, AdMob, and Ad Manager). While there’s no action for you to take today since this won’t affect any publishers right now, be sure that you read through this email to familiarize yourself with what’s coming next month.”
Easy As A-B-C?
In the note’s “Here’s what you can expect section,” the company addresses gun websites/blogs. “Google Publisher Restrictions, which outline the types of content which will receive restricted sources of advertising. These include: Sexual Content, Shocking Content, Explosives, Guns, Gun Parts & Related Products, Other Weapons, Tobacco, Recreational Drugs, Alcohol Sales and Misuse, Online Gambling, Prescription Drugs, and Unapproved Pharmaceuticals and Supplements. Google Ads (formerly AdWords) will continue not to serve on any of this restricted content; it will only receive ads from other advertising products or via the use of direct deals between publishers and advertisers.” [Our emphasis]
In other words, Google Ads revenue closed on Sept. 1 for gun blogs and websites specializing in firearms. The only other advertising avenue possible is to peddle them directly to manufacturers and retailers. Of course, that means they need placement, invoicing and rotating when a new one is due. The work is labor-intensive and usually requires staff members to handle the time-consuming tasks. It’s not the kind of chores for the average blogger.
It’s also a tough sell, mainly because anyone can have a blog and there’s no guarantee of readership or quality. The National Shooting Sports Foundation probably won’t admit it, but tightening the writing qualifications required for entry into its annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show and limiting the number allowed acknowledges that fact. Once upon a time your name on a magazine’s masthead or letter from the editor in chief was enough. Those credentials no longer guarantee entry.
What About Profits?
Even when attempted there’s little guarantee sales will continue to be acceptable if you’ve sourced it out elsewhere. Shopify, for example once was home to dozens of firearm-related companies.
Its CEO, Tobi Lutke, confirmed their welcome when he wrote in a February 2017 article that appeared in Medium that, “I’m against exclusion of any kind—whether that’s restricting people from Muslim-majority nations from entering the US, or kicking merchants off our platform if they’re operating within the law….Commerce is a powerful, underestimated form of expression. We use it to cast a vote with every product we buy. It’s a direct expression of democracy. This is why our mission at Shopify is to protect that form of expression and make it better for everyone, not just for those we agree with.”
He changed his mind on Aug. 13, 2018, writing on a personal blog that, “…we have found ourselves in a position of having to make our own decisions on some of these issues. And along the way we had to accept that neutrality is not a possibility.” The company modified its acceptable-use policy, and exiled dozens of gun businesses.
AR-15 manufacturer Spike’s Tactical was one of the online retailers affected. Although the company’s size dwarfs most bloggers who are merchandising, the resulting expense illustrates how devastating overnight changes of heart can be.
“We can export product out, but the code used in Shopify is called Liquid, which is proprietary,” Cole Leleux, general manager of Spike’s Tactical explained. “It will have to be completely redone.” Estimates to do so ran from $30,000 to $70,000. This is on top of the $100,000 the firm invested through the years on its Shopify presence.
You’ve Been Demonetized
The economic Achilles heel of YouTube’s gun vloggers was the earliest target, though. There were restrictions before, but the Hickok45 channel on YouTube is probably the best-documented case. Its video host is a grandfatherly type who goes by the name of Greg Hickok. By 2016 it accumulated 1.8 million subscribers. His attention to safety is unfailing, always emphasized and on-camera delivery is unfailingly family-friendly, as it should be.
In 2017 The Firearm Blog, which had signed up to ad revenue sharing, experienced what has become standard operating procedure on YouTube. All its firearm videos received a restricted rating in April of 2017. As such, they were not qualified for ads, and therefore not recovering any return on investment—in time, equipment and effort. Ironically the website specializes in “Firearms not Politics” and like Hickok, emphasizes the safe and proper use of guns by law-abiding citizens.
YouTube’s victim list is long and grows daily. If nothing else, each encounter robs vloggers of time they could have spent with family or working in gainful employment elsewhere.
Google is the number one search engine on the planet. YouTube—owned by Google—is No. 2. In a world increasingly reliant on Internet information, those facts create the potential for corporate censorship of global proportions.
In a rather amusing prelude to what may lay in the future, the Washington Examiner reported in February, 2018, that “The gatekeeper of the Internet decided to filter shopping searches that included the term ‘gun.’ It didn’t go so well.”
It also didn’t last long. Probably because one of the programmers grew frustrated when his search for lunch break burgundy kept coming back with an error. Yes, even the letters G U N in a word blocked links. Laguna Beach temporarily vanished into the cyber sea, along with nail gun, Shogun, Top Gun, and all things gun. One music loving reader even reported an inability to find the group Velvet Revolver during his Google search.
And complete disappearance at the touch of a button isn’t possible in some cases. In early August, Blogger—a free website/service owned by Google—suspended “No Lawyers, Only Guns and Money.” The pro-gun blog allegedly violation the terms of service. The appeal was successful, but the blog is in the process of moving to another host. That ensures it will remain online, for now, but the time and expense required will never be recovered.
Baker said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Google circular-filed my blog ‘accidentally.’” Miguel has a firewall right now because, “I am with a big web hosting company and paying for the service, so I am not being threatened.” But he admits, “That may change in the future, who knows?”
A Return To Gun Blogging?
The challenges and financial hurdles would be laughable, were it not for the deadly seriousness of our Second Amendment rights and the critical role it plays in this great republic. Censorship at the flip of a switch can lead to lost audiences, content, and revenue. It’s a war zone out there. Which is why some gun bloggers are slipping quietly into the night or laying below the radar until closer to the election.
The odds are good you know at least one or two of your favorite blogs/websites that have vanished or gone unchanged for months or years. The decision to abandon their efforts may have been purely personal, given the amount of time and dedication needed. But the odds are increasing that it’s the toxic political and business climates driving them away.
Hat tip to everyone still hard at work doing it.
NRA-ILA’s Hunter has an encouraging final word, and slightly different theory on the situation. “If the numbers are down, it’s because firearms enthusiasts no longer feel their rights are as threatened as they did when Obama was president.” Hunter wrote in an e-mail. “The NRA, however, has seen steadily increased traffic to our digital resources as voters come to us to find out what’s actually happening in the world of firearms and 2A rights, and which lawmakers can be trusted to protect America’s freedoms.”