A new update for Google’s Android devices will change the gun emoji from a cartoon revolver to a watered-down version of the firearm: a bright orange squirt gun. The update started rolling out for Android users on Tuesday, and the change means that the water gun emoji is now the industry standard.
Of the six major players in emoji — Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google, and Samsung — Apple was the first major tech company to introduce water guns into the emoji canon after a public push, officially swapping out their original revolver design for a neon green water gun in 2016. Samsung and Twitter followed suit earlier in 2018, also adopting similar green squirt gun emojis. With Google now on the same page, only Microsoft and Facebook still use realistic gun emojis. Microsoft used a ray gun until 2016, but has since switched to the revolver design previously favored by most companies.
While the move is likely about conforming to the industry standard, it’s hard not to see Google’s emoji change as a political statement. Ever since the Parkland shooting in February, where a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the issue of gun violence has hardly left the public eye. Removing the realistic gun emoji reads as a symbolic nod to the activism efforts of the Parkland teens and other young gun reform advocates, though Google hasn’t confirmed any such political reasoning for the change.
This wouldn’t be the first time an emoji has become a stand-in for a larger political debate. In 2016, Unicode Consortium, the organization that ensures that emojis follow certain standards to avoid cross-platform confusion, considered adding a rifle emoji to the iconographic vocabulary. Apple fought against the new addition, and the rifle never made it into the emojisphere.
According to Emojipedia, Facebook is planning to change to the water gun standard soon, but it’s unclear if Microsoft has any future alterations in mind.
Even in the world of emoji, the culture war is alive and well.