From Gun Games to Gun Stores
Why the Firearms Industry Wants Their Video Games on Your Child's Wish List
The gun industry has struggled with stagnant or shrinking sales for several years due to the saturation of its primary market of white males. According to the General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, the percentage of gun-owning homes dropped nearly 20 percent from 1977 to 1996.1 An advertisement for New England Firearms summed up the challenge facing the industry, "In effect, [the] greatest threat we face is the lack of a future customer base for the products which we all sell."2
To meet this challenge the gun industry�working hand-in-hand with the National Rifle Association (NRA)�has targeted children as vital to the future of the gun culture in America, both as future customers and as political foot soldiers for the gun-control battles that lie ahead.a 3
The latest assault
in the gun industry battle for the "hearts and minds"b of America's youth
is the use of video games that put virtual guns in the hands of potential
customers. Designed and marketed as children's toys and sold freely
through channels such as eToys.com
and amazon.com, they are the newest
marketing tools for attracting children to the gun industry. In fact,
one game�Remington Upland Game Hunter�features an "On-line Catalog"
of selected Remington firearms.
Homepage of eToys.com,
a web site offering a selection of these video games for sale.
Scott Farrell, editor of Guns Magazine, outlined the thinking behind such video games, "What we need is a computer game which combines the use of a real handgun...with state-of-the-art graphics and an exciting story....A game like that would be an extremely effective vehicle to introduce safe recreational shooting to the video-game generation."4 Or, as the NRA urges on the cover of InSights, its youth magazine for members age 17 and under, "Get into shooting cyber style" (see report cover).
The gun industry's addition of video games to its youth marketing strategy is hardly surprising given the explosive growth in video game sales and the attractive demographic profile of video game players�39 percent are under the age of 18 and 43 percent are women.5 In fact, the video game industry is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. entertainment industry.6 Retail sales of computer and video games have grown from $3.2 billion in 1995 to $6.1 billion in 1999.7 According to a survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 60 percent of all Americans over the age of five�or 145 million people�play computer or video games.8
Using video games offers several advantages over other youth marketing strategies employed by the gun industry. Through video games the gun industry is able to appeal to a larger and demographically more diverse audience�there are 145 million video game players versus 44 million gun owners, 43 percent of video game players are female versus nine percent of gun owners, and the average age of a video game player is 28 while the majority of gun owners are age 40 or older.9
As a result, the gun industry is able to put "virtual" versions of their deadly products into the hands of children who are not legally eligible to purchase firearms and would be unreachable by more traditional means of marketing.
Despite the fact that children can't purchase guns from dealers, in many cases they can legally possess them. A 1998 poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News found that 15 percent of American youths owned their own gun.10 Renowned gun writer Grits Gresham summed up the situation in a 1993 column in the gun industry publication SHOT Business�
Video games featuring shooting have been played for as long as video games have existed. Typically, these games featured traditional hunting rifles or shotguns. Recently, as gun companies have lent their brand names to video games, the products featured have become decidedly more lethal. Shooting games now include fully automatic machine guns, assault weapons, and all types of handguns�from "pocket rockets" and "junk guns" to large-frame 50 caliber pistols. The industry sees these games as a means to introduce children to guns and the shooting sports, as well as an opportunity to engender brand loyalty.
As the guns have changed, so have the targets. Where once were stationary targets or perhaps a flock of ducks, now stand human targets or, as Remington Top Shot euphemistically phrases it, "interactive targets." Colt's Wild West Shootout instructs the player that "you're the law and you carry the firepower to back it up!," while Soldier of Fortune offers the more direct, "Meet interesting, exotic people from all over the globe, and dispatch them."12
Recent school shootings and disturbing levels of youth firearms use have focused attention on the problem of youth gun violence. Clearly, there is a spectrum of factors involved, ranging from the remote to the proximate. In other words, some factors may only arguably contribute to the problem, but other factors most certainly do.
For example, some might argue that such cartoon violence as that seen in a typical "Road Runner" scene contributes at some level, however remote, to a desensitization of youth to the nature, meaning, and real-life consequences of violence. On the other hand, it is clear beyond doubt that real guns in the hands of troubled young people have been the immediate cause of countless tragedies, from lonely suicides to mass public shootings.
Unfortunately, policymakers�such as members of Congress and more recently the Federal Trade Commission�have devoted an enormous amount of attention to the more remote end of this scale of factors. They have preferred to expend resources on largely repetitive, redundant "investigations" of the alleged contributions to youth violence of media images and song lyrics rather than scrutinize the role of gun companies in their target marketing of firearms to children. For the most part, the gun industry and it affiliates have gotten a free ride in the national inquisition into the causes of youth gun violence.
The games reviewed in this study lie at the more proximate end of the scale of factors for two reasons: they put surrogate firearms into the hands of children, thus closely approximating the real experience of shooting to kill. And they are intended to lure children into possessing real firearms. These should be of at least as much interest to parents, Congress, and others concerned about youth violence as the putative effects of music and motion picture images.
It is time to end the gun industry's free ride: Congress, independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, and investigative agencies such as the General Accounting Office should examine closely the role of the gun industry in promoting the gun culture to children through these games and other marketing schemes.
a) The gun industry has launched a campaign to attract children to the gun culture on several fronts�
b) At the NRA's 1996 Annual Meeting, then-President Marion Hammer outlined the NRA's agenda to "invest" in America's youth saying, "It will be an old-fashioned wrestling match for the hearts and minds of our children, and we'd better engage our adversaries with no holds barred....If we do not successfully reach out to the next generation, then the freedom and liberty that we've lived for�and that many of our ancestors have died for�will not live beyond us."
All contents � 2000 Violence Policy Center
The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals. The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related death and injury.