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Start 'Em Young

Recruitment of Kids to the Gun Culture

Section One: "An Old-Fashioned Wrestling Match for the Hearts and Minds of Our Children"

At the NRA's 1996 Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas, then-President Marion Hammer introduced her 10-year-old grandson Michael, stating, "I know that when NRA reaches out and takes the hand of a child, we are touching America's future." Hammer also outlined the NRA's agenda to "invest" in America's youth, win their "hearts and minds," and ensure the organization's longevity:

I pledge to you to dedicate my term in office to two demanding missions. One is building an NRA bridge to America's youth. The other is being fiscally far-sighted to provide for bold new programs that will teach America's children values to last a lifetime. 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.

In the intervening years, the gun lobby has aggressively followed Hammer's "investment" strategy. A year later the NRA announced a major campaign targeting America's youth and put a price tag on it: $100 million. In September 1997 the cover of the NRA's American Rifleman magazine featured a grim-faced Charlton Heston (who was then second vice president of the organization) surrounded by a multi-ethnic array of children against a black background. (Please see Section Two for cover). The headline asked the question, "Are Gun Rights Lost on Our Kids?" In an accompanying article, Heston asks readers to "join me in the arena." Stated Heston:

I am back because I see a nation of children, a couple of entire generations, that have been brainwashed into believing that the Second Amendment is criminal in origin, rather than framed within the Constitution....I am back because I have a torch I hope to pass my six-year-old grandson, Jack....1

A later version of the picture appeared as an ad for The NRA Foundation�the tax-exempt arm of the NRA which funds many of its youth programs, and receives funds from the firearms industry�featuring a smiling Heston surround by the same group of children against a white background. (Please see Section Two for ad.) The children are also smiling, and one of them holds Heston's hand. The ad asks, "How Do You Want Them To Remember You? As A Taxpayer? Or A Philanthropist For Firearms Freedom?" After detailing the tax advantages of contributing to The NRA Foundation, the text notes, "Today, you can provide the most for your family and leave them the sweet legacy of America's first freedom through The NRA Foundation."

Since the announcement of this campaign, the NRA has continued to focus on youth, as illustrated by the examples below.

  • At the NRA 1998 annual meeting in Philadelphia, items for sale included NRA bibs (as seen on this report's cover) and infant sleepwear, as well as a full line of products featuring its Eddie Eagle "gun safety" mascot, from children's backpacks to plush toys.2

  • A full-page "I'm the NRA" advertisement featuring actor Tom Selleck that appeared in the March 8, 1999 issue of Time magazine promised, "Shooting teaches young people good things. Because all good rules for shooting are good rules for life....So whether it's an afternoon throwing clay birds or getting up at dawn in turkey season or just cleaning grandpa's side-by-side, you can't lose. It's time spent together that blends character-building lessons about respect, responsibility, our heritage and especially, our Bill of Rights. I'm the NRA." At the bottom of the page, a young boy is shown holding a shooting clay next to his father, who is holding a shotgun. The ad asks, "Did You Know....`The NRA's youth hunting, safety and training programs reach more than a million young people each year."3 (Please see Section Two for ad.)

  • In a full-page "I'm the NRA" advertisement that appeared in the June 29, 1998 issue of Newsweek, Representative Steve Largent (R-OK), former wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, states, "I've always cherished three uniquely American pursuits: Freedom, football, and hunting. I think they all share some important qualities. Like discipline. Skill. Responsibility. Preparedness. Study. Patience. These are the things I teach my kids, in part, through hunting. It's precious time together outdoors, and it creates a legacy our children will inherit that exceeds any bank account. Yes, I love these three uniquely American pursuits. Maybe that's why I am a member of the U.S. Congress, the NFL Hall of Fame, and the NRA." At the bottom of the page, a youth is shown aiming a shotgun, and the ad asks, "Did You Know...`NRA's youth hunting and training programs reach more than 67,000 youngsters each year."4 (Please see Section Two for ad.)

  • 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. (Please see Section Two for ads.)

  • The May 1997 issue of the NRA's American Guardian magazine detailed gun manufacturer Browning's new promotional partnership with rock singer and NRA board member Ted Nugent. In the article, Browning President Don Gobel stated, "We hope our affiliation with Ted will be a catalyst for our promotion of the hunting and shooting lifestyle to a younger audience....The youth of America must be educated to the wholesome and valued world of hunting and conservation.5

  • In one of her final columns as NRA President, Marion Hammer wrote, "[W]hen I became NRA's President, I made promises to you. I promised you: that, working together, education of youngsters would be our priority; that endowments to secure the financial future of our educational programs would be aggressively started; and that children would learn and understand the meaning of our rights, especially the Second Amendment.6

And while the NRA has promoted youth gun possession and use, in the wake of shootings like the Littleton massacre it has been quick to blame virtually all aspects of American culture, except guns.

  • After the Jonesboro massacre, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre wrote in the NRA's American Rifleman magazine, "Jonesboro is an aberration. [Emphasis added] Yet the media and zealots like Sarah Brady have responded with a hateful barrage....In every way, we must stand together�with one voice�and proclaim our unity of purpose to stop the systematic wrecking of our liberty."7

  • In that same issue of the Rifleman, Hammer wrote, "We are in an all-out civil war, a cultural war, a political war over who will possess firearms in the next millennium....This war is now sparked by the terrible murders of school children in Jonesboro, Arkansas....But nothing government could ever propose might have prevented two twisted youths from stealing a vehicle, stealing firearms, stealing ammunition, and stealing the lives and futures from classmates and their families.8

  • LaPierre sounded similar themes in a previous Rifleman column, writing, "Youth handgun violence? Always remember, it is already illegal for criminals to possess and use guns. Just like their adult counterparts, juvenile convicted felons cannot even touch guns without committing Federal felonies. Under Federal law, commerce in handguns with juveniles is a Federal crime. In its use of symbols, this [Clinton] administration wants nongun-owning Americans to fear any kid with a gun�a nice kid, a peaceable kid, your kid. At stake in all of this is nothing less than our kids' futures."9

At the same time, the industry has focused and increased its outreach efforts to children and youth. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is the official trade association for the gun industry. Quotes illustrating the NSSF's youth marketing efforts include the following:

  • "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."10

  • In response to the question, "How old is old enough?" the NSSF pamphlet When Your Youngster Wants a Gun... (distributed by the organization up until 1994) 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." (Please see Section Two for pamphlet.)

In addition to the efforts of the NRA and the NSSF, industry members have also joined in the effort to target children in order to ensure future customers.

  • Gun manufacturer Browning's 1997 catalog features a toddler dressed in a Browning shirt as well as shooting ear and eye protection. Another photograph shows another toddler wearing a Browning cap while placing expended shotgun shells on his fingers. (Please see Section Two for catalog photos.)

  • The July 1998 issue of Gun World magazine features an article entitled "Start �Em Young!�There Is No Time Like the Present." In it, author Michael Beliveau writes, "It's no secret that kids today have a lot of things competing for their time. If you want them to develop into your shooting and hunting partners, it will take some work on your part. My first recommendation is to start them young. I don't know for sure how old I was when my dad started to take me along on his squirrel hunts. But, since I can't remember a time when I didn't accompany him, I'd guess I was four or five years old....That's not to say that taking young kids to the range or the woods doesn't have its dangers. Obviously you're bringing them to an environment where dangerous weapons are being used. You'll need to keep an eye on them, and you'll need to invest some up-front time familiarizing them with basic firearms safety and with the range rules. After all, Mamma likely won't be pleased if one of her babies gets shot."11 (Please see Section Two for photos from article.)

  • A New England Firearms advertisement that appeared on the cover of the September/October 1998 issue of the gun industry publication Shooting Sports Retailer warns, "It's not `who your customers will be in five years. It's `will there be any customers left.'" The cover shows a family shooting, with the parents slowly fading away as a child aims a long gun. Inside the magazine, a full-page ad from the company warns, "Building the next generation of customers takes work and commitment. But it must be done. The greatest threat to the firearms business may not be the anti-gunners. It is a future which lacks gun owners and users due to lack of interest. In effect, [the] greatest threat we face is the lack of a future customer base for the products which we all sell. Coming to grips with this challenge is not easy, but it must be done."12 (Please see Section Two for ad.)

  • In an article from Fishing & Hunting News that was distributed as a promotional flyer by The NRA Foundation at its 1997 annual meeting, ammunition and reloading component manufacturer Frank Brownell of Brownell's stated, "You always have to bring young people into anything. New blood really helps. The NRA is... plowing new ground for this industry."13

And, just like the NRA, when the industry's products are used by children and youth to kill, the industry moves quickly to blame virtually everything except guns.

  • 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.14

  • In 1995, Ed Shultz, head of handgun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, stated, "The problem is not the guns....These people that they call children, in my mind, are little criminals and ought to be held accountable."15

If one accepts the youth gun culture as envisioned by the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers, and other members of America's gun lobby, incidents like Littleton are inevitable.

Go to next section: Section Two: Selected Photos and Advertisements

Back to Start 'Em Young Table of Contents

1) "My Crusade to Save the Second Amendment," American Rifleman, September 1997, p. 32.

2) For more information about how the NRA's Eddie Eagle program is utilized to market guns to kids, please see the November 1997 VPC study Joe Camel with Feathers: How the NRA with Gun and Tobacco Industry Dollars Uses its Eddie Eagle Program to Market Guns to Kids.

3) Time, March 8, 1999.

4) Newsweek, June 29, 1998.

5) "New Browning Spokesman," American Guardian, May 1997, p. 8.

6) Marion Hammer, "The President's Column," American Rifleman, June 1998.

7) NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, "Standing Guard," American Rifleman, June 1998.

8) Marion Hammer, "The President's Column," American Rifleman, June 1998.

9) NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre,"Standing Guard," American Rifleman, January 1998.

10) NSSF SHOT Business, September/October 1993.

11) "Start `Em Young!�There Is No Time Like The Present," Gun World, July 1998, pp. 34-35.

12) Shooting Sports Retailer, September/October 1998.

13) "Industry's NRA Endowments= 'Foundation for the Future.'" Fishing & Hunting News, January 30-February 13, 1997.

14) "Gun Designer Defends `American Tradition,'" Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1994.

15) "Smith & Wesson Survives New Age," The Sunday Gazette Mail, May 28, 1995.

All contents � 1999 Violence Policy Center