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Joe Camel with Feathers: How the NRA with Gun and Tobacco Industry Dollars Uses its Eddie Eagle Program to Market Guns to Kids

Key Findings

  • The primary goal of the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle program is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by making guns more acceptable to children and youth. The Eddie Eagle program employs strategies similar to those utilized by America's tobacco industry—from youth "educational" programs that are in fact marketing tools to the use of appealing cartoon characters that aim to put a friendly face on a hazardous product. The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA.

  • Violence Policy Center research reveals for the first time that manufacturers of firearms, ammunition, and related products directly contribute hundreds of thousands of tax-deductible dollars to the NRA through its "affiliate," The NRA Foundation. The Foundation in turn then makes "grants" to the NRA to fund the Eddie Eagle program. Financial contributors to The NRA Foundation include Saturday Night Special or "junk gun" manufacturers, rifle and shotgun manufacturers, and manufacturers of ammunition and reloading equipment. Donation of land of unknown value has also been made by industry members to The NRA Foundation for endowment programs. Industry members have also facilitated the donation of more than a million dollars to the NRA through point-of-purchase dealer and catalog sale programs.

  • Violence Policy Center research reveals for the first time that the tobacco industry has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the NRA through The NRA Foundation.

  • Many of the marketing problems being faced today by the NRA and the firearms industry are, in fact, similar to those faced in the past by the cigarette and smokeless tobacco industries. Faced with declines in its primary market, the gun industry and the NRA, like the tobacco industry before them, have expanded their market to include women and children—even though guns, like tobacco, cannot legally be sold to children or youth. Yet while the tobacco industry denies that it is working to entice children to use its product, the NRA and the gun industry openly acknowledge it.

  • The NRA uses Eddie Eagle as a lobbying tool in its efforts to derail the passage of child access prevention (CAP) and mandatory trigger lock laws—on both the state and federal levels.

  • Undercover interviews conducted by the Violence Policy Center and the Global Survival Network with NRA staff at gun industry trade shows confirm that Eddie Eagle is not only a thinly disguised marketing tool used to "soften up guns" in the words of one NRA staffer—essentially Joe Camel with feathers—but also acts as the "the clean-up committee" to help burnish the NRA's public image after gun control battles.

  • A laudatory article distributed by The NRA Foundation as a promotional flyer concludes, "The Foundation is a mechanism by which the firearms industry can promote shooting sports education, cultivating the next generation of shooters. Translate that to future customers." Or as one NRA Foundation official quoted in the article put it, "The industry is an indirect beneficiary of this program." The article also notes that The NRA Foundation is "getting some major league support from several giants in the industry" and one industry member estimated that as many as 20 firearm industry companies or their CEOs were involved in the Foundation's fundraising efforts.

  • In its attempts to use the credibility of other organizations to promote the Eddie Eagle program, the NRA has misrepresented awards granted to the program by the National Safety Council, which has issued a series of sharp rebukes to the NRA. [pp. 42-46] The NRA has also erroneously claimed endorsement by D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and the Black United Fund, Inc.

  • Rather than recognizing the inherent danger firearms in the home pose to children, and the often irresponsible firearms storage behavior of adults, the Eddie Eagle program places the onus of safety and responsibility on the children themselves.

  • Public health researchers have found that "gun safety" programs like Eddie Eagle are ineffective in preventing unintentional death and injury from firearms. In an educational brochure for parents, "Keep Your Family Safe From Firearm Injury," the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "[b]ecause even the most well-behaved children are curious by nature and will eagerly explore their environment, the safest thing is to not keep a gun at home."