Arkansas School Shooting Focuses New Attention on Youth Gun Culture

For Release:  Thursday, March 26, 1998

New Violence Policy Center Document Set Details Marketing and Recruitment Efforts by National Rifle Association and Gun Industry

The massacre of children by children at a Jonesboro, Arkansas middle school has focused new attention on America’s youth gun culture.

“Most parents would be shocked at the gun lobby’s vision of childhood: Sesame Street with semi-automatic weapons. Possession and use of guns by young children, including participation in full-auto machine gun shoots, is not only never questioned, but actively promoted,” states Violence Policy Center (VPC) Director of Federal Policy Kristen Rand.

A new VPC report released today, Young Guns: How the Gun Lobby Nurtures America’s Youth Gun Culture, documents how America’s gun industry and organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) court America’s children and actually encourage the use and possession of guns by kids. The 38-page document set includes:

  • quotes from the NRA, NSSF, and gun industry members on efforts to involve children in the gun culture;
  • photos of children with guns from gun industry catalogs and gun magazines;
  • State and national statistics on youth firearms death.

In September 1997, the NRA launched a campaign featuring NRA First Vice President Charlton Heston targeting America’s youth. The cover of that month’s American Rifleman magazine featured a grim Heston surrounded by a multi-ethnic array of children. The cover asks the question, “Are Gun Rights Lost on Our Kids?” The motivation for the NRA and firearms industry to create a generation of pro-gun kids is two-fold: to guarantee future customers for the industry and political foot soldiers for the NRA.

“If America is willing to accept the youth gun culture envisioned by the gun lobby, tragedies like Jonesboro are, unfortunately, inevitable,” adds Rand.

America’s gun lobby, however, dismisses the growing toll of death and injury that has accompanied increased access to guns by youth. For example, in 1994 Bill Ruger, head of gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co., stated:

I just have to wonder how many schoolchildren go to school and worry about getting shot. If there are some rotten kids who are carrying a gun, that can’t happen very often. But it gets a lot of play with the press.

NRA President Marion Hammer has described the gun lobby’s youth marketing efforts as an “old-fashioned wrestling match for the hearts and minds of our children, and we’d better engage our adversaries with no holds barred….” Other gun lobby quotes and information taken from the VPC document set include:

  • Kids can’t buy guns, you say? Well, yes and no. It’s true that most students from kindergarten through high school can’t purchase firearms on their own. But it’s also true that in many parts of the country, youngsters (from preteens on up) are shooting and hunting. Pop picks up the tab. [NSSF SHOT Business,1993]
  • In response to the question, “How old is old enough?” the NSSF pamphlet When Your Youngster Wants a Gun… responds, “Age is not the major yardstick. Some youngsters are ready to start at 10, others at 14. The only real measures are those of maturity and individual responsibility. Does your youngster follow directions well? Is he conscientious and reliable? Would you leave him alone in the house for two or three hours? Would you send him to the grocery store with a list and a $20 bill? If the answer to these questions or similar ones are `yes,’ then the answer can also be `yes’ when your child asks for his first gun.”
  • The NRA youth magazine InSights, routinely contains ads for firearms, including such weapons as the Harrington & Richardson 929 Sidekick revolver and the Savage Arms “Predator” combination rifle/shotgun.
  • “Do you have guns in your heart…? [My friend]…said it made him sad and angry, because he knew the daily hostility we all face as adults now – for believing in the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights – will grow even greater toward that youngster and all the others like him. `Why should a kid have to face that? Gun ownership is intrinsically good and intrinsically innocent…’ my friend said.” [NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre,”Standing Guard,” American Rifleman, March 1998]

Gun manufacturer Browning’s 1997 catalog features a toddler wearing a Browning shirt as well as ear and eye protection. Another photograph shows another toddler wearing a Browning cap while placing expended shotgun shells on his fingers.

Copies of Young Guns are available from the Violence Policy Center.

About the Violence Policy Center
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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