The XX Factor

The Gun Industry Wants To Sell Your Kid an AR-15

An advertisement from Junior Shooters magazine

In the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, many—including Gawker, Mother Jones, and we here at XX Factor—started calling for more focus on guns as an industry. Gun control is usually covered mostly as a culture-war struggle, with very little attention paid to the companies who profit handsomely off the people they’ve convinced to spend thousands of dollars on guns and ammo to demonstrate fealty to the conservative cause. (Liberals have been known to take the bait with “green” products, but Seventh Generation detergent hasn’t killed anyone, as far as we know.)

Now, it seems the cries of “follow the money!” are being heard, first by President Obama and now by the New York Times, which kicked off a series of in-depth investigations into Big Gun this weekend with a piece on how gun manufacturers are trying to groom a new customer base by targeting (sorry) children as young as 8. The piece is a 180 from the usual media framing of the NRA as a rights’ organization, correctly identifying it as an industry lobby whose main goal is protecting the profits of gun manufacturers.

The findings of the NYT investigation are, needless to say, troubling. The gun industry has invested a lot of money and time into researching child-centered marketing, while also pitching the idea to their already existing customer base that getting your kids to start playing with guns at a young age imparts important life lessons. And yes, “playing” is the operative word here. When it comes to marketing guns to kids, gun industry spokesmen don’t just shy away from reminding potential customers that guns are weapons, but sometimes outright deny it, as did Andy Fink, the editor of Junior Shooters magazine. 

In an interview, Mr. Fink elaborated. Semiautomatic firearms are actually not weapons, he said, unless someone chooses to hurt another person with them, and their image has been unfairly tainted by the news media. There is no legitimate reason children should not learn to safely use an AR-15 for recreation, he said. 

“They’re a tool, not any different than a car or a baseball bat,” Mr. Fink said. “It’s no different than a junior shooting a .22 or a shotgun. The difference is in the perception of the viewer.”

Of course, in the real world, tools have designated uses. Cars are for transportation and baseball bats for hitting baseballs. Guns were inarguably designed as weapons, even if they’re often marketed as toys whose purchase presumably annoys liberals and temporarily quiets concerns about emasculation (until they actually emasculate).

So, how is the gun industry marketing to kids? There are magazines and advertising campaigns aimed at young people, including ads for the Bushmaster AR-15 that Adam Lanza used. The gun industry also spends a lot of money trying to establish shooting as a character-building hobby for young people by creating shooting clubs or encouraging existing youth organizations to adopt shooting as an activity for members. The industry also feeds parents a line about how guns teach “responsibility,” though there must be safer routes to that goal. A goldfish, perhaps?

Larry Potterfield, the CEO of Midway USA, which makes a fortune off gun sales, has given $5 million to youth shooting programs, and the quote he gives to the Times on this demonstrates how rarely he’s ever had to defend himself in the media. “Our gifting is pure benevolence,” he says. What a big heart. Here’s hoping the rest of the Times series shines a spotlight on all of Potterfield’s fellow industry softies.