[ED: Former gun industry executive Ryan Busse has created a lucrative new niche for himself preaching against the industry in which he worked for decades. He’s now making good money and gaining fame as a professional apostate, painting himself as a brave truth-teller who’s escaped the clutches of the gun business to spread the word of its long hidden corruption and perfidy. It’s a narrative that’s simply too good for the gun control industry or the media to pass up. As a result, he’s found plenty of outlets for his deep thoughts including a recently published book and, we can only assume, some day a screenplay and Matt Damonesque movie about Busse’s Damascene conversion and brave efforts to expose the real truth and save lives. Meanwhile each new tweet and op-ed gets even more lurid and sensational than the last.]
Americans are rightly anguished by gun violence and the question of what’s motivating the young men who have committed a succession of horrific mass murders. We seem to be fumbling around for answers: Is it racism and radicalization, or untreated mental illness, or toxic video games, or too-easy access to guns? All of these may be parts of the problem, but equally none of them makes complete sense outside of the larger context: The gun industry’s modern marketing effort did not just arm these shooters; in a very real sense, it created them. …
Companies such as the European American Armory, an importer of cheap, mostly Eastern European guns, that used cheesy ads—like this one from 2008—to sell imported guns were a rarity. Little did I realize that those tacky exceptions were the gun industry’s future.
Those ads, designed to appeal to young men who knew no better, were the starting point for marketing that would create a new customer base and change our country forever.
This transformation received its first boost in the mid-aughts when President George W. Bush allowed the assault-weapons ban to sunset and then signed a bill that gave broad protection from liability to gunmakers. Combined, those moves reduced the social stigma and potential legal penalties for edgy marketing of military-style rifles. Over time, larger, more mainstream gunmakers began to experiment with marketing messages previously relegated to the disfavored fringe of the business.
Young men were the target. They had disposable income, a long customer life, and a readily exploited fascination with guns. The push to access these new customers took off in 2010 when the AR-15 maker Bushmaster launched its “Man Card” advertising campaign.
The ads, which ran in several gun-industry publications, on websites, and in Maxim magazine, were controversial and gained national attention. More important, they showed the rest of the industry the power of an appeal based on masculinity to the 18–35 male demographic, at a time when images from America’s foreign wars were airing constantly on the evening news. …
As for the once-anomalous practice in the industry of using sex to sell products to young men, this is now ubiquitous among the hundreds of companies that sell tactical gear such as helmets, bulletproof vests, and “Contractor AF” (as fuck) pants.
One could be forgiven for wondering how the gun industry could possibly make things worse, now that so many troubled adolescent males have had their “Man Cards” issued, but I’ve learned that it can. After Kyle Rittenhouse, a new industry mascot is coming into view: the tactical toddler set to become the new gun-marketing trend. …
Through bitter experience, we know what today’s typical mass shooter looks like and where he’s taking his cultural cues from. Now the industry is giving us a glimpse of its next customer: the American child soldier.
— Ryan Busse in The Gun Industry Created a New Consumer. Now It’s Killing Us.