“Start Them Young” – National Shooting Sports Foundation: The Gun Industry’s Tobacco Institute

While the National Rifle Association functions as the unofficial trade association for the firearms industry, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is its official trade association. In a grim irony, NSSF’s headquarters is located in Newtown, Connecticut. The role played by the NSSF within the gun industry is not unlike that which was played by The Tobacco Institute for the tobacco industry. The NSSF offers a wide range of publications for its industry patrons, focusing primarily on marketing. At the same time, just as The Tobacco Institute denied a causal link between cigarettes and cancer, the NSSF continually works to minimize the hazards associated with exposure to firearms, especially by children.

For example, in December 2011, NSSF issued a press release that made the claim that hunting, as measured by injuries per number of participants, was actually safer than bowling, claiming a “percentage of injury per 100 participants” of only .05 percent compared to .06 percent for bowlers. Using NSSF’s math, hunting was behind only camping and billiards in its low rate of injury. Other activities NSSF claimed hunting was safer than included golf and tennis. Left out of NSSF’s equations were the severity of injuries for each category, that is, those injuries, if counted, that resulted in crippling disability or death (a distinction that might have benefited golf and tennis as compared to hunting, which included not only those injured by gunfire, but also from falling out of treestands).74 Soon after, in a focus group of 12- to 16-year-olds conducted for NSSF and another organization, a similar argument was made and countered:

A substantial number of individuals said that hunting and target shooting were rather dangerous activities due to the involvement of firearms. However, others insisted that hunting and shooting were no more dangerous than many mainstream sports; one person suggested that although the rate of injuries in hunting and target shooting is generally lower, any accidents that do occur are more likely to be fatal.75

In all of NSSF’s publications the lethal risk from guns is rarely acknowledged, except as a marketing hurdle. When it is, gun death is consistently presented as being synonymous solely with unintentional shootings. Rarely are gun homicides — with youth as either perpetrators or victims — or suicides ever mentioned. Moreover, the risk of death from guns is, at best, only hinted at as illustrated by this “Message to Kids About Firearms Responsibility” from NSSF’s A Parent’s Guide to Recreational Shooting for Youngsters

Not long ago, in another town, some kids found a firearm. Maybe they were looking for it because of something they saw on television. Maybe one of them dared the other to find it. Maybe they just found a firearm that was left out by mistake. It doesn’t matter why they found it. What matters is the firearm was loaded, and they played with it. Now they are very sorry they did. Don’t let this happen to you.76

The passage is striking, but not unique, in its ability to place blame, whether it be on television, negligent parents, or the kids themselves, on virtually anyone except the industry.

NSSF issues a constant stream of publications, both to support, and defend, the firearms industry in the marketing of its products. Recent NSSF marketing publications (some publicly available, others limited to NSSF industry members) include titles such as: Millennials and The Shooting Sports: An In-Depth Exploration (2014); Understanding Diversity in Hunting and Shooting Sports (2013); Understanding the Impact of Peer Influence on Youth Participation in Hunting and Target Shooting (2012); and, Understanding Activities that Compete with Hunting and Target Shooting (2012).

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NSSF’s Millennials and The Shooting Sports: An In-Depth Exploration

Among the “11 main points to consider” in the executive summary of the NSSF report Understanding Activities that Compete with Hunting and Target Shooting are “Electronic and indoor recreation are a threat to recruiting new hunters and target shooters,” “Losing hunters and target shooters to competing activities is a subtle process,” and, “Start them young.”77

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NSSF’s Understanding Activities that Compete with Hunting and Target Shooting

Discussing the “threat” posed by electronic and indoor recreation, the report presents findings “worth noting” from a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation: “It is estimated that today’s youth 8 to 18 years old spend an average of 53 hours a week on electronic media entertainment,” and, “Nearly three-quarters (71%) of youth have a television in their bedroom.” NSSF suggests, “Rather than trying to stop youth from using electronic media, the hunting and target shooting industry should use those media to its advantage.” “Tactical strategies” toward this end as cited in the report include:

  • “The industry should use social media and web sites to raise interest and help youth find ways to hunt and target shoot.”
  • “The industry should team with current online media firms to take advantage of their reach and their abilities to communicate with youth.”
  • “Because youth are online to be entertained, messages that emphasize fun should be used in this setting.“78

Under a section titled “Start Them Young,” the report states, “There is a clear link between avidity and age of initiation in hunting….”79  “Tactical strategies regarding initiation” detailed in the study include:

  • “To help hunting and target shooting get a head start over other activities, stakeholders such as 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.”
  • “It is important to consider more hunting and target shooting recruitment programs aimed at middle school level, or earlier.”
  • “Programs that have helped in hunting and target shooting recruitment should be implemented; for instance, it is important to implement more youth programs like Families Afield80 and apprentice licenses.”81

Recognizing that “not all youth can be born into the ideal environment for creating a lifelong hunter or shooter (i.e., as a male within a hunting or shooting family in a rural environment),”82 the 2012 report Understanding the Impact of Peer Influence on Youth Participation in Hunting and Target Shooting urges that a “’Youth Hunter and Shooter Ambassador Program’ be initiated to capitalize on the current population of youth hunters and shooters who can positively influence their fellow peers’ attitudes toward the sports.”83 The report, sponsored by both NSSF and the Hunting Heritage Trust, explains how such “youth ambassadors” would be “performing a major service for the hunting and shooting sport communities”—

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NSSF’s Understanding the Impact of Peer Influence on Youth Participation in Hunting and Target Shooting, Executive Summary

The more familiar youth are with individuals their own age who participate in hunting and shooting, the more likely they will be to support and actively participate in these activities. In this sense, youth hunters and shooters are the key to their fellow friends’ and students’ acceptance of these activities. Given this direct relationship, it is imperative that youth hunters and shooters recognize the weight and importance of their words and actions with regard to their peers’ perceptions of hunting and target shooting…

If non-hunting and non-shooting students talk with, befriend, and interact with youth who are actively involved in hunting and shooting, the positive aspects of these activities will increasingly be thought of as acceptable, appealing, and inviting recreational activities.84

The report also urged the use of social media, noting:

[T]alk and communication about hunting and shooting should be encouraged and promoted in as many ways as possible, especially through social media. One individual from the [youth] focus groups mentioned photos a hunting classmate had posted on Facebook ─ as with this individual, such photos tend to encourage questions, invite curiosity, increase interest, and place hunting and shooting activities in the foreground of the social atmosphere. Youth, in particular, are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the most prominent and effective means of social media and other communication tools — hunting and shooting sponsoring agencies and organizations should encourage this tendency wherever possible. In promoting the use of images, remember that pictures are often worth a thousand words: images promoting hunting and shooting should reinforce a positive atmosphere that emphasizes the environment, nature, the outdoors, nice weather, exercise, natural resources, wildlife, a social atmosphere among friends and peer groups, etc.85

The report also urged that “youth ambassadors and others should focus on getting newcomers to take a first step into target shooting through any means, whether a BB or pellet gun, paintball gun, or archery bow. The point should be to get newcomers started shooting something, with the natural next step being a move toward actual firearms. Initial interest, however, should be embraced in whatever form it presents itself.“86

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