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Cashing in on the New Millennium

How the Firearms Industry Exploits Y2K Fears to Sell More Guns

Section One: The Marketing of Y2K

As the end of the millennium approaches, it would seem that the Y2K computer bug has been examined from every possible angle. Businesses and government alike have been forced to evaluate their computer systems and upgrade those that appear susceptible. Responsible leaders have sought to dampen hysteria and avoid "hyping" the possibility of millennial turmoil. But one industry has capitalized shamelessly on the Y2K issue: gun manufacturers. The firearms industry has mounted a major campaign to sell more guns and increase its profits by exploiting divisive social fears.

The gun industry has been struggling with a shrinking or stagnant market for many years, with its primary market�white males�being nearly saturated. As a result, gun manufacturers have introduced new, more lethal products in an attempt to bolster sales. These have included assault weapons, sniper rifles, and smaller, more powerful handguns known as pocket rockets. At the same time, the industry works to market its products to new segments of the population such as women, children, and minorities. Whether targeting men or women, the firearms industry constantly exploits fear of violent criminals to sell more guns.

The Y2K bug allows the firearms industry to combine several marketing strategies. Manufacturers have brought out special Y2K firearm models, stressed the necessity to arm the whole family, and promoted the ultimate "fear-marketing" opportunity�the end of the world as we know it.

Special Y2K Edition Guns

[T]he ultimate solution to your Y2K home protection concerns.
�Advertisement, Wilson Combat, Gun World, October 1999

Several manufacturers have released special edition Y2K guns, including the Bushmaster Y2K Limited Edition AR-15 assault rifle and the Wilson Combat Millennium Protector .45 pistol. One Wilson Combat ad promises, "The new Millennium Protector will give you security and peace of mind in these uncertain times with its accuracy, total reliability and fast handling." The ad continues:

Should one of the worst case Y2K scenarios happen and power disruptions materialize, you could find yourself responsible for the protection of yourself and your family. In a situation like this, there is no such thing as having equipment TOO GOOD! The new Millennium Protector is a use-specific custom handgun built for one purpose, self-defense.1

The hoped-for marketing potential of special Y2K models is illustrated by a controversy that erupted between two major gunmakers over the model name "Survivor." According to the gun industry publication Firearms Business, H&R 1871 filed suit against Colt's Manufacturing Company, claiming that Colt's new "Survivor" revolver infringed on a trademark held by H&R and used on a line of shotguns. Firearms Business reported that H&R planned to aggressively market its Survivor line with the release of a special Y2K edition, and that Colt's sought the same market for its revolver. According to Firearms Business, "The �Survivor' name is a key element in both companies' plans to capitalize on market opportunities raised by expected Y2K banking and infrastructure problems."2 In a recent report titled Project Megiddo, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warns of the potential for violence associated with the new millennium from militias and other extremist groups.3 By marketing special edition Y2K guns, the firearms industry has done its part to ensure that these groups are well armed.

The Consumer Gun Press

One might also need to quickly stop a dog or dogs who through starvation revert to wild beasts. Dogs take a lot of killing, so a powerful round and good shot placement will be necessary should this distasteful task arise.
�"Facing Y2K With a Colt Python," Handguns, September 1999

A key marketing tool of the firearms industry is the "gun press," in particular those magazines aimed at the retail gun buyer, such as Guns & Ammo and Gun World. Official National Rifle Association publications such as American Rifleman and American Guardian also play a key role. This "consumer gun press" has been relentless in its hype of a pending Y2K crisis, and the multitude of guns required to survive it. Articles in the gun press promote the same theory as the industry: to survive Y2K, it is vital to be well armed.

Magazine headlines illustrate the climate of fear the gun press promulgates in order to use Y2K to the industry's advantage: "Y2K Survival Guide to Revolvers," "Survive Y2K�Guns and Gear You Need," and "Coping with the Upcoming Computer Collapse: Being Forewarned as Well as Forearmed Will Help You Survive the Coming Y2Kaos," to name a just a few.4

While some articles in the gun press present frightening scenarios in order to promote firearms in general, others recommend specific models for use in warding off Y2K marauders, such as, "Facing Y2K With a Colt Python," and "Smith & Wesson's Model 10 Revolver: A Good Choice as a Y2K Handgun".5

The Industry Press

Are you ready for the new millennium? I'm not talking about stocking up on food, fuel, and toilet paper, but rather business! Are you cashing in on the new millennium?
�"It's Time to Sell the New Millennium!," Shooting Industry, September 1999

Another arm of the gun press serves those within the industry itself: manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. While the consumer gun press attempts to influence what retail purchasers will buy, the industry press shows those on the other side of the counter innovative ways to sell more guns and improve their bottom line.

The industry press was quick to realize the opportunity that Y2K presented gun sellers. In the January 1999 issue of Shooting Sports Retailer, editor Bob Rogers predicted, "Amidst social turmoil and disintegrating economic underpinnings, you will sell more guns in 1999 than you've ever sold in your life."6

Shooting Industry counseled, "Business experts in every industry are urging their clients to �Sell the Millennial Experience.' Now is the time to prepare. To top it all off, work up a t-shirt: �I Survived The Millennium Shopping at (your shop) .'"7

At the retail level the firearms industry consists largely of independent retailers. There are very few chains of gun sellers. As a result, the industry press plays a key role in articulating coherent, industry wide strategies for selling guns. The marketing strategies presented in Shooting Sports Retailer and SHOT Business are widely read by those in the industry as these magazines are sent free of charge to all Federal Firearm License holders who request them.


I don't think a lot is going to happen with Y2K, but we're going to sell the heck out of it anyway.
�"Y2K Concerns Fueling Firearms Markets," Firearms Business, April 1, 1999

As a result of the firearm industry's relentless marketing of Y2K, gun sales have been strong. The gun industry began to see returns on its marketing push as early as April of this year. According to a report in the April 1, 1999 Firearms Business, "Sales on almost every firearms-related product have been brisk throughout most of the first quarter..." and, "Almost everyone involved believes the strong market is the direct result of consumer concerns about Y2K...."8a

By the middle of the year strong sales resulted in tight supplies for many companies. In particularly short supply were AR-type assault rifles. According to Firearms Business:

The two major suppliers based on current market share, Colt's Manufacturing and Bushmaster, each are allocating every rifle in the category. Market sources say the condition results from a combination of the firms beginning the year with limited stocks and consumer interest spurred by the Y2K phenomenon.9

As the end of the year approaches, more quantitative results can be measured. Most firearm manufacturers are privately held and do not make their earnings public. However, Sturm, Ruger & Company�one of the largest firearm manufacturers in America�is publicly held. According to filings made with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ruger recorded sales of $55.4 million for the third quarter of 1999, up from $43.4 million for the same period in 1998, a 27.8 percent increase. In addition, the report noted:

Firearms unit shipments increased 29.4% for the three-month period and 23.7% for the nine-month period ended September 30, 1999 from the comparable 1998 periods. The unit increase reflects continued strong overall market demand.10


Taking advantage of Y2K has proven to be smart business for the firearms industry, but its legacy for the rest of the country has yet to be felt. While the New Year may come with little impact felt from the Y2K bug itself, the guns sold as a result of the gun industry's Y2K hype will be used in homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings for decades to come.

Go to Section Two: Quotes From Selected Consumer Gun Magazines

Back to Cashing in on the New Millennium Table of Contents

a) Another factor in the increase in gun sales this past year was the consideration of new federal gun control legislation following the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999.

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.

All contents � 1999 Violence Policy Center