For Release: Tuesday, March 6, 2018
“Start Them Young” documents how the gun lobby and firearms industry market guns to children
Washington, DC—In the wake of the Parkland mass shooting and news reports detailing how the alleged gunman had participated in a school marksmanship program that had received funding from the National Rifle Association, there has been increased attention focused on firearms marketing to children and teens. Violence Policy Center (VPC) research, as detailed in the 2016 study “Start Them Young” — How the Firearms Industry and Gun Lobby Are Targeting Your Children, reveals how the firearms industry and gun lobby are targeting children as young as grade-school age for financial and political gain.
The 54-page VPC report documents ongoing efforts by the gun industry and gun lobby to market guns to children. In recent years these efforts have intensified with little regard for the lethal consequences: the use of guns by children and teens in suicides, homicides, fatal unintentional shootings, and even mass murder.
The study reveals the scope of this marketing effort through: gun industry advertisements, catalog copy, articles, marketing documents, and quotes; NRA articles and materials for its “Junior Members” and other youth; articles “For Kids By Kids” in the youth-oriented gun publication Junior Shooters; and numerous photos.
VPC Executive Director and study author Josh Sugarmann states: “Few Americans are aware that there is an ongoing, coordinated effort by the gun lobby and firearms industry targeting America’s children and teens. Imagine the public outcry if the alcohol or tobacco industries introduced child-friendly versions of their adult products. Or imagine if they devised a plan to deploy ‘youth ambassadors’ to convince their playmates to join them in these adult activities. Yet the firearms industry and gun lobby are doing all of these things and more in their aggressive efforts to market guns to children.”
As household gun ownership has steadily declined and the primary gun market of white males continues to age, the firearms industry has set its sights on America’s children. Much like the tobacco industry’s search for replacement smokers, the gun industry is seeking replacement shooters. Along with the hope of increased gun sales, a corollary goal of this effort is the creation of the next generation of pro-gun advocates for future political battles.
“Start Them Young” includes numerous examples of how the firearms industry and gun lobby are targeting children, which include:
— Designing and marketing guns specifically for children, even using a Joe Camel-like mascot: the Crickett rifle’s “Davey Crickett.”
— The promotion of 22 caliber assault rifles that often incorporate plastic in their design (leading to less recoil and lighter weight). The result, according to Shooting Sports Retailer, is guns that “bring the coolness and fun of the tactical rifle to kids and less serious shooters.”
— Marketing guns in child-friendly colors, including: pink rifles and pistols intended for girls and women from a wide range of manufacturers; Smith & Wesson (manufacturer of the assault rifle used in the Parkland school shooting) 22 caliber AR-15 style assault rifles in Pink Platinum, Purple Platinum, and Harvest Moon Orange; and, youth rifles from Savage Arms that come in crayon-box colors that include red, yellow, orange, and blue.
— In an article on the NRA Family website lauding the Thompson/Center HotShot rifle, “a tiny gun intended for the very youngest shooters,” a company spokesman explained, “We’re targeting the six- to 12-year-old range.”
— Numerous marketing research publications targeting children from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF, the gun industry’s official trade association, located in Newtown, Connecticut), including one document titled Understanding Activities that Compete with Hunting and Target Shooting. In a section titled “Start Them Young,” one of the “tactical strategies” urged by the publication is that “managers and manufacturers should target programs toward youth 12 years old and younger. This is the time that youth are being targeted with competing activities.” The NSSF publication Understanding the Impact of Peer Influence on Youth Participation in Hunting and Target Shooting urges the establishment of a “Youth Hunter and Shooter Ambassador Program.”
— In the search for a gun-based “‘reality’ video game” to compete with the appeal of actual video games, the industry has embraced 3-Gun competition, described by one gun writer as being “as close to a real-life first person shooter video game as you’ll get without joining the military.” In basic 3-Gun competition, shooters use three types of firearms (pistol, semiautomatic rifle, and shotgun) on a timed circuit, shooting at various “bad guys” in scenarios that mimic life-threatening situations. Such competitions involving children and teens are a staple of Junior Shooters magazine articles.
The study also contains a series of policy recommendations.
For more details on the gun industry’s marketing efforts targeting children, along with numerous photos, gun industry catalog images, and videos, the full report is available in a web version at:
The full report in PDF format is available at:
A companion video to the report is available here: