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Censoring the Gun Control Debate

An alert visitor to a Buncombe County School District library noticed that Web access is being denied to sites sympathetic to gun rights issues. (The district is the eighth largest in North Carolina, with over 24,000 kids.) However access to sites such as Handgun Control, Inc. is not being blocked. An example of what a patron sees when trying to access a site that has been "filtered" can be seen here. Unfortunately this case of blatant political censorship of the gun control debate in our public schools is not limited to Buncombe County.

The Culprit

Symantec, the makers of Norton Anti-Virus, offers software called I-Gear for Education, which in their words...

"Is the only comprehensive content management application designed specifically with schools' needs in mind. I-Gear includes all the functionality a school needs to make the Internet safe and enhance instructional use of the Internet in the classroom."
From Chapter 3 of their manual:
"A number of predefined Content Category Lists are included with I-Gear. URLabs [Symantec purchased the I-Gear product from URLabs] has populated these lists with URLs that contain related subject matter. The following table describes each predefined list and includes sample URLs that are representative of the list content. (If you believe the URLs shown here are incorrectly categorized, please contact URLabs Support Services.)"
Also from the same chapter...

WeaponsWeapons Sites that display, sell, or advocate the use of weapons, including guns, knives, and martial-arts weaponry.
> http://www.nra.org/
> http://www.shooters.com/

(Samples of censored sites are provided for each category and are not meant to be representative of the total number of sites being filtered, which is over 300,000.)

[Source: I-Gear Version 3.5 Software Manual, cited 10/30/00]


GunCite contacted a URLabs Support Services, Support Solutions representative by phone on October 6, 2000. The representative was asked whether Symantec was going to continue to support the default filtering/censoring of gun rights Web sites.

On October 24, the following response was received:

Sorry for the late reply - I was out sick all of last week.

I spoke with the I-Gear product manager about 2 days after we initially spoke. He said he would follow up with you via email - he is very busy so it may take a while (I'll check with him the next time we speak).

Basically the logic behind gun filtering lists came about after the Columbine school shootings. It was decided that I-Gear would start filtering gun sites that promote gun use so schools can monitor their students in hopes of preventing future school shootings. This is the reasoning behind filtering sites that promote gun "use" vs. guns in general.

I hope this explanation helps.

[Name withheld by GunCite]
Symantec - Support Solutions

In the initial telephone conversation, the I-Gear Support Solutions representative indicated he meets with the I-Gear product group once a week or every other week. To date, no further response has been forthcoming.

GunCite's response to the above letter, the same day, stated that "I-Gear's explanation was ludicrous. Perhaps the horrible tragedy at Columbine merely provided a flimsy excuse to filter sites concerned with the preservation of gun rights.

GunCite's letter continued, "Regardless of one's stance on this issue, it is intellectually dishonest to filter sites interpreting the Second Amendment as an individual right or those discussing the advantages and disadvantages of gun control policies, on the grounds that it might avoid future school shootings, or just as absurdly, that these sites in any way encourage kids to 'hose down' schools. Such associations are logical fallacies."

Certainly, Symantec has the right to do what they are doing. Whether it's legal for public libraries to censor one side of the gun control debate is a different and highly questionable matter. However, perhaps if more people expressed their concerns to Symantec, they would change their policy. Symantec's Customer Support Service number is: 1-800-441-7234.

For those who do call, there is no point in being rude, calling repeatedly, etc.

Damage Control

Even if Symantec were to change its policy today, it is unknown how many I-Gear for Education customers there are, and how many are filtering gun rights sites. The following is what is currently known, and will be updated as more information is learned.

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