The marketing of assault weapons throughout this decade is in large part due to the slump in handgun sales that has afflicted the industry since 1982. Handgun production dropped from a high of 2.7 million that year to less than 1.7 million in 1984—a decrease of nearly 40 percent. In 1986, production increased to 1.9 million, a level still well below that of the early 1980s. (Because handgun manufacturers will not release sales figures, and are not required to do so by law, production figures are the only available gauge for the market.) With an estimated 35 to 40 million handguns in American hands, the slump is apparently the result of saturation of the primary market—white males—and the increasing resale of used handguns.
In their marketing of assault weapons, manufacturers often focus on their police or military functions, their ruggedness and dependability, and the cache of a lone man and his gun against the elements, crime, or the unstated threat of post-nuclear survival.
Colt Industries has even developed an ad aimed directly at survivalists. The 1985 ad features a handsome rancher looking across his land. He has leather patches on the elbows of his flannel shirt and an AR-15A2 in one hand. The headline reads: “Survival means different things to different people. For a rancher in the high country of Wyoming, being self-sufficient can mean keeping varmints from his sheep. For a rugged individual in the wilderness, it means being prepared for any eventuality. For both these men, and thousands like them, there’s only one gun. The Colt AR-15A2. The reasons are as simple as they are plentiful. First, it’s the rifle they’re already familiar with. The AR-15A2 Sporter II is the civilian version of the battle proven and recently improved U.S. military M-16A1…”
This survivalist sales pitch is echoed in an ad for Heckler & Koch’s HK 91 semi-automatic assault rifle. The ad’s headline reads, “When you’re determined to survive, you leave nothing to chance. In a survival situation, you want the most uncompromising weapons that money can buy. The HK 91 Semi-Automatic Assault Rifle from Heckler & Koch.” The ad ends with the tag line, “In a world of compromise, some men don’t.”
An ad for the FIE/Franchi LAW-12 shotgun—which comes in standard hunting and assault configurations—urges the reader to “Take the ‘LAW’ Into Your Own Hands. Whether you patrol the birdlands when the sun is rising…or patrol the boonies when the sun sets…the FIE/Franchi LAW-12 is the LAW of the land! All the LAW you need! Situation – The sun has set, it’s now midnight, you’re called to a Code 3 situation! Your backup is deployed to another sector. You’re all alone, left to handle a tough situation…what do you do? Take the LAW-12 into your hands – A possible 9 rounds of heavy hitting 12 guage [sic] “00” Buck – All 9 rounds can be emptied on target in less than 3 seconds…operation successful…”
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