For Release: Tuesday, December 13, 1994
Federal tax dollars are being used to help underwrite a school-based marketing program designed to increase gun sales to children and young adults and bolster the political base of America’s firearms industry, according to the new Violence Policy Center (VPC) study “Use the Schools”– How Federal Tax Dollars Are Spent to Market Guns to Kids.
The study was released on Tuesday, December 13th at a 1:00 P.M. Capitol Hill press conference in Room 2128 of the Rayburn House Office Building with House Crime Subcommittee Chair Charles Schumer (D-NY) and VPC Executive Director and study co-author Josh Sugarmann.
Using documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the study reveals that the Newtown, Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has received more than $229,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the NSSF’s “Wildlife Management Education in Schools” program. The NSSF is the gun industry’s leading trade association and has more than 1,100 members (including manufacturers of assault weapons and Saturday Night Special handguns), many of whom market to youth. The Interior grant provided for the revision, expansion, and mass free distribution of three NSSF-produced videos for grades four through 12 focusing on hunting and wildlife management. The NSSF reasons that an increased acceptance of or lack of antagonism toward hunting can lead to an interest in, and subsequent purchase of, firearms. This offers the industry political as well as financial benefits.
The logic behind the program was detailed in the September/October 1993 issue of the NSSF’s publication, S.H.O.T. Business. In it, columnist Grits Gresham promised:
There’s a way to help ensure that new faces and pocketbooks will continue to patronize your business: Use the schools…. Every decade there is a whole new crop of shining young faces taking their place in society as adults. They will quickly become the movers and shakers. Many of them can vote before leaving high school, whether they do or not. You can help see that they do. Will it be for or against a local ordinance proposal to ban those bad semi-autos, the Model 1100? Will they vote for or against even allowing a `gun store’ in town? Unless you and I, and all who want a good climate for shooting and hunting, imprint our positions in the minds of those future leaders, we’re in trouble…. Schools collect, at one point, a large number of minds and bodies that are important to your future well-being. How else would you get these potential customers and future leaders together, to receive your message about guns and hunting, without the help of the schools….Schools are an opportunity. Grasp it.
VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann states, “The issue here is not hunting or wildlife management, but whether any industry should be able to take federal money and use America’s schools for their own profit and political agenda. The firearms industry has found a way to use federal funds to increase its customer pool and expand its political base.”
The NSSF proposal outlines plans to offer the videos free to public and private schools with enrollments of at least 300 students. The NSSF promised to “make the initial offering to the largest schools in the nation. This strategy not only reaches the most students per dollar but also reaches those students in large cities and suburban areas where the approval of hunting is the lowest.” Left unstated in the proposal is that large cities and suburban areas are also the areas where support for gun control is the strongest. Or as columnist J. Wayne Fears states in a reprint of a 1990 Shooting Times article that the NSSF includes with its standard information packet, the NSSF’s “education efforts in the schools are probably the most noteworthy because today’s youngsters are tomorrow’s customers and voters.” The proposal estimated that the videos would reach more than 26 million students nationwide.
Federal funding of NSSF activities is only the latest twist in the organization’s history of marketing to children and youth. An NSSF brochure for parents and guardians entitled, When your youngster wants a gun… answers the question, “How old is old enough?”: 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.
In the study, the Violence Policy Center recommends that:
- the Department of the Interior immediately review the USFWS Pittman- Robertson grant guidelines and develop criteria to ensure that no funds are used for any industry’s marketing or political purposes;
- the USFWS review all grants currently pending or recently awarded to the NSSF or related organizations to see whether they are designed as marketing tools;
- consideration be given to diverting a significant portion of Pittman- Robertson funds to defray health care costs generated by firearms violence.