The images of gun violence are disgusting: a crying woman with an AK barrel in her mouth, children pointing guns at their own heads, a toddler pointing a Glock with their finger on the trigger – lots of photos of children with fingers on triggers.
These are stock images, known in the trade as photo illustrations, because they are set up in advance, as opposed to actual news photographs, which are taken live as news happens.
Not only do the images violate almost all of the basic tenets of gun safety, they portray gun handling that’s life-threatening, and they clearly exploit the children involved. Most of the images could never be used by a newspaper or legitimate website, as they depict suicide attempts and far worse.
Access is easy. These stock photographs can be searched and browsed for free and purchased individually for a nominal fee or through a paid subscription. There are no age requirements or other safeguards in place to protect children from viewing these dangerous images.
They’re offered by several firms, the largest being Shutterstock, Getty Images and Getty’s discount subsidiary, iStock.
These stock photo companies have massive archives and a broad reach.
Getty maintains an archive of 415 million photos and other digital assets from more than 340,000 individual contributors.
Getty’s iStock brand has 125 million photos in its archive.
Shutterstock offers more than 300 million photos from more than 1 million contributors, and operates in more than 150 countries.
Theirs is a multi-billion-dollar global business. It’s e-commerce on a massive scale.
All of the stock-image firms say they support press freedom, cultural awareness, creativity and the rights of their contributors, but none of them were willing to discuss their stock photos depicting exploited children dangerously mishandling firearms.
Neither Shutterstock nor Getty Images or iStock returned calls or emails seeking comments for this story.
Similarly, none of the major organizations representing individual photographers were willing to comment for this story, including: the National Press Photographers Association, the American Society of Media Photographers, American Photographic Artists and the Professional Photographers of America.
“Toxic” for children
Dr. Roy Lubit MD, Ph.D., is board certified in psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry. He is an expert at evaluating emotional trauma in children and adults (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). He has served as an expert in criminal and civil sexual assault cases, civil rights cases and psychological/psychiatric malpractice cases. Dr. Lubit has strong opinions on these stock photos.
“I think it is best if children are not exposed to pictures of violence or pornography, and especially to things that involve other children. It’s problematic when people become desensitized to images of violence and inappropriate behavior, and it can also be very scary and upsetting,” he said. “Adults have slowly learned about the problems of the world and can deal with it, but for children, it will be much more shocking to see violence and much more likely that inappropriate images could impact their opinion of what happens in the world. And certainly, images of children with firearms could be very scary for them.”
Dr. Lubit is not alone in his opinion.
Dr. Helen Grusd is a licensed clinical psychologist, past president of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association and a past board member of the California Psychological Association’s Division of Clinical Psychology. She is a Certified Forensic Consultant by the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, and has worked on cases dealing with PTSD, sexual harassment, car accidents and psychological effects of alleged negligent surgery. She works with children, adults, and adolescents.
Dr. Grusd, too, has strong opinions of the stock images involving children and firearms.
“I think they’re very dangerous. I think children are very vulnerable, and when they look at a picture, they see it over and over again. It’s stored in their memory banks, and they think it’s okay. I don’t know if there are voices in their lives to say that they’re precious and that life has value. I don’t know if they think it’s funny or fun, or if they offer a sense of power over their environment, in which they feel helpless, or if they come from a culture – mostly teens – where they have to prove they’re okay if empowered,” she said. “If they’re depressed, they might think it’s okay to use a gun … You don’t use violence. You don’t fight back with guns and violence. You should fight back with strong words and strong action. These images are toxic.”