The gun industry faces an existential crisis. If it cannot grow beyond its now-stagnant market of white males, its long-term sustainability remains in peril. This is an open secret when industry members meet and plan for their future, but one they are quick to dismiss when questioned in public forums. Instead, they point to the latest short-term sales burst (most recently the boost in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic) that are part of the crisis-driven peaks and resultant valleys that define gun sales in America. Yet overall, household gun ownership in America has been on a steady decline for decades and now remains relatively stagnant.
The gun industry resembles all other manufacturers in that it needs a constant flow of customers to survive. And, like all other industries, it must adjust to demographic and cultural changes. The industry has worked to not only resell its shrinking primary market of white males, but also focused on new “opportunities.” As noted at the beginning of this study, historically the focus has been on women and children. And now, following a trail blazed by the alcohol and tobacco industries, it has expanded to non-white potential gun buyers, primarily Blacks and Latinos.
While the gun lobby and firearm industry’s efforts are frequently awkward (NSSF’s proclaiming that they are no longer “stale, male and pale”), ham-handed (the industry and NRA’s utilization and/or employment of pro-gun spokespeople of color, such as Colion Noir, Maj Toure, Gabby Franco, and others), or just puzzling and offensive (Springfield Armory’s gun ad featuring a Black man at a gas station that warns, “It’s a jungle out there”), the reality is that based on the low gun ownership rates of Blacks and Latinos in the U.S., there is a potential market to be exploited. And taking into account the support among both Blacks and Latinos for gun violence prevention measures and the growth of Latinos as a political force, it is openly acknowledged by the gun lobby and firearms industry that the hoped-for benefits are political as well as financial.
As with the alcohol and tobacco industries, the joint actions of the NRA and the firearms industry should be seen for what they are: a cynical marketing effort by a rogue industry that values its own perpetuation above all, including any lives lost or communities adversely impacted. Historically, both the gun industry and the NRA have dismissed the gun-driven homicide rates and related violence that disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities as a uniquely urban phenomenon and falsely present it as the inevitable result of irredeemable criminals preying on one another. In 1991, long-time NRA board member Jeff Cooper (now deceased) offered an example of this view to Guns & Ammo magazine in a blunt, racist assessment commenting on the murder rate in Los Angeles:
[T]he consensus is that no more than five to ten people in a hundred who die by gunfire in Los Angeles are any loss to society. These people fight small wars amongst themselves. It would seem a valid social service to keep them well-supplied with ammunition.78
And when “solutions” are offered, the answer is almost always the same: buy a gun. This is despite the fact that NSSF’s own research shows that in gun stores Black and Brown customers frequently feel uncomfortable, with one respondent telling the organization’s researchers, “I would like to see more salespeople stop looking at me as if I stole something.”
At the same time, both the NRA and gun industry are tethered to the racist words and actions of Donald Trump, who was endorsed by the NRA in both 2016 and 2020. In 2016, the NRA reportedly spent more than $30 million in support of Trump’s presidential campaign.79 That same year, the political action committee affiliated with NSSF spent $430,000 on House and Senate candidates, 95 percent of whom were Republicans.80 During his term, Trump undertook numerous actions in support of NSSF’s agenda.81
any American, regardless of race or ethnicity, bringing a gun into the home
increases the risk of death or injury to the owner or a family member. If the
marketing efforts targeting Black and Latinos by the firearms industry and the National
Rifle Association gain traction, the impact will be measured not only in
dollars and cents, but in increased death and injury among communities of
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78 “Cooper’s Corner,” Guns & Ammo, April 1991. Although Cooper is no longer alive, his position as house racist on the NRA’s board has been amply filled by entertainer Ted Nugent, whose racist and sexist public statements have been frequent and well documented. See, for example, NRA Family Values, Violence Policy Center, 1996 (https://vpc.org/publications/nra-family-values/) and Ted Nugent, Media Matters for America, ongoing (https://www.mediamatters.org/ted-nugent?page=2).
79 See “What gun groups want from Trump,” The Hill, December 10, 2016 (https://thehill.com/regulation/other/309771-what-gun-groups-want-from-trump) and “NRA Endorses President Donald Trump for Reelection,” America’s 1st Freedom, July 16, 2020 (https://www.americas1stfreedom.org/articles/2020/7/16/nra-endorses-president-donald-trump-for-reelection/).
80 Open Secrets, Center for Responsive Politics, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Contributions to Federal Candidates, 2016 Cycle (https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgot.php?cmte=C00480863&cycle=2016).
81 See, for example: “NSSF Welcomes State Department Removing Obstacles to Suppressor Exports,” NSSF press release July 10, 2020 (https://www.nssf.org/nssf-welcomes-state-department-removing-obstacles-to-suppressor-exports/); “NSSF Thanks Trump Administration for Industry’s Critical Infrastructure Designation,” NSSF press release, March 28, 2020 (https://www.nssf.org/nssf-thanks-trump-administration-for-industrys-critical-infrastructure-designation/); “NSSF Hails Publication of Firearms Export Reform Rules,” NSSF press release, January 17, 2020 (https://www.nssf.org/nssf-hails-publication-of-firearms-export-reform-rules/); and, “NSSF Praises President Trump’s Rejection of U.N. Arms Trade Treaty,” NSSF press release, April 26, 2019 (https://www.nssf.org/nssf-praises-president-trumps-rejection-of-u-n-arms-trade-treaty/).