For Release: Thursday, February 18, 2016
“Start Them Young” documents how the firearms industry and gun lobby market guns to children
Washington, DC–The firearms industry and gun lobby are targeting children as young as grade-school age for financial and political gain, a comprehensive new study from the Violence Policy Center (VPC) reveals.
The 54-page report, “Start Them Young” — How the Firearms Industry and Gun Lobby Are Targeting Your Children, documents ongoing efforts by the gun industry and gun lobby to market guns to children. In recent years these efforts have intensified with little regard for the lethal consequences: the use of guns by children and teens in suicides, homicides, fatal unintentional shootings, and even mass murder.
The study reveals the scope of this marketing effort through: gun industry advertisements, catalog copy, articles, marketing documents, and quotes; NRA articles and materials for its “Junior Members” and other youth; articles “For Kids By Kids” in the youth-oriented gun publication Junior Shooters; and numerous photos.
VPC Executive Director and study author Josh Sugarmann states: “Imagine the public outcry if the alcohol or tobacco industries introduced child-friendly versions of their adult products. Or imagine if they devised a plan to deploy ‘youth ambassadors’ to convince their playmates to join them in these adult activities. Yet the firearms industry and gun lobby are doing all of these things and more in their aggressive efforts to market guns to children.”
As household gun ownership has steadily declined and the primary gun market of white males continues to age, the firearms industry has set its sights on America’s children. Much like the tobacco industry’s search for replacement smokers, the gun industry is seeking replacement shooters. Along with the hope of increased gun sales, a corollary goal of this effort is the creation of the next generation of pro-gun advocates for future political battles.
“Start Them Young” includes numerous examples of how the firearms industry and gun lobby are targeting children, which include:
• Designing and marketing guns specifically for children, even using a Joe Camel-like mascot: the Crickett rifle’s “Davey Crickett.”
• The promotion of 22 caliber assault rifles that often incorporate plastic in their design (leading to less recoil and lighter weight). The result, according to Shooting Sports Retailer, is guns that “bring the coolness and fun of the tactical rifle to kids and less serious shooters.”
• Marketing guns in child-friendly colors, including: pink rifles and pistols intended for girls and women from a wide range of manufacturers; Smith & Wesson 22 caliber AR-15 style assault rifles in Pink Platinum, Purple Platinum, and Harvest Moon Orange; and youth rifles from Savage Arms that come in crayon-box colors that include red, yellow, orange, and blue.
• Encouraging parents to let their children access guns at the earliest possible age. Until it changed recently to the NRA Family website, the NRA’s Junior Members website, NRA Family InSights, featured two subsections: “Under 8” and “8 and Up.” Both included a subsection titled “Guns.” In an article on the NRA Family website lauding the Thompson/Center HotShot rifle, “a tiny gun intended for the very youngest shooters,” a company spokesman explained, “We’re targeting the six- to 12-year-old range.”
• Numerous marketing research publications targeting children from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF, the gun industry’s official trade association located in Newtown, Connecticut), including one document titled Understanding Activities that Compete with Hunting and Target Shooting. In a section titled “Start Them Young,” one of the “tactical strategies” urged by the publication is that “managers and manufacturers should target programs toward youth 12 years old and younger. This is the time that youth are being targeted with competing activities.” The NSSF publication Understanding the Impact of Peer Influence on Youth Participation in Hunting and Target Shooting urges the establishment of a “Youth Hunter and Shooter Ambassador Program.”
• In the search for a gun-based “‘reality’ video game” to compete with the appeal of actual video games, the industry has embraced 3-Gun competition, described by one gun writer as being “as close to a real-life first person shooter video game as you’ll get without joining the military.” In basic 3-Gun competition, shooters use three types of firearms (pistol, semiautomatic rifle, and shotgun) on a timed circuit, shooting at various “bad guys” in scenarios that mimic life-threatening situations. Such competitions involving children and teens are a staple of Junior Shooters magazine articles.
Despite attempts by the firearms industry and gun lobby to dismiss the threats posed by marketing guns to children (even claiming that hunting is safer than bowling), the industry’s actions have lethal and predictable consequences.
In just one recent example, earlier this month, 11-year-old Benjamin Tiller was found guilty in the October 2015 murder of eight-year-old McKayla Dyer in White Pine, Tennessee, after she refused to allow him to play with her puppy. Police said the fifth-grade boy used his father’s shotgun to kill the little girl. The boy, who had been trained in firearm safety and frequently hunted with his father, was sentenced to state custody until the age of 19. His five siblings were placed with relatives and the state.
The study also contains a series of policy recommendations.
For more details on the gun industry’s marketing efforts targeting children, along with numerous photos, gun industry catalog images, and videos, the full report is available in a web version at:
The full report in PDF format is available at:
A companion video to the report can be viewed below: