A recent op-ed at the New York Times explores the marketing of firearms. The Gray Lady is horrified that the firearms industry works to “target buyers with rhetoric of fear, machismo and defiance.” As the three-man team who braved the wilds of the internet to report the terrifying details have uncovered . . .
Gun companies have spent the last two decades scrutinizing their market and refocusing their message away from hunting toward selling handguns for personal safety, as well as military-style weapons attractive to mostly young men. The sales pitch — rooted in self-defense, machismo and an overarching sense of fear — has been remarkably successful.
The authors have also uncovered sales pitches that appeal to women and minorities (which kind of erodes the article’s earlier warnings about mucho macho masculine marketing. But the authors’ use of anti-gun groups as sources of “research” supporting their narrative tends to blow any pretense of objectivity out of the water.
Josh Sugarmann, founder of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control group that tracks firearms advertising and marketing, said the firearms industry became adept at exploiting disquieting developments to spur sales.
“If you look back, it hasn’t just revolved around mass shootings. They tailored their marketing to Katrina, Y2K, 9/11, pretty much everything,” he said. “Their goal is basically to induce a Pavlovian response: ‘If there’s a crisis, you must go get a gun.’”
We’ll get back to that quote in a minute, but there are a couple of aspects of selling firearms that the article fails to address. Like most great lies, it’s not a matter of saying things that are untrue, as much as not putting actual truths in context.
First, let’s talk about marketing. Every product that companies want to sell has to be marketed to the pool of potential buyers. Many dollars and a lot of effort go into figuring out who a company’s target market is, what motivates potential customers to lay down their cash.
Home security system makers use hefty amounts of fear to sell their products. Fast food chains employ amazing photography that shows you a hamburger you’ll almost certainly never actually get from the drive-thru window.
But, when firearms manufacturers, gun shops, and instructors offer their perfectly legal products and services that alleviate public fears, and mention those concerns in their marketing materials, we’re apparently supposed to conclude that it’s a deeply deceptive, offensive, and possibly even evil business practice.
And it’s not just gun sellers that are offending the delicate sensibilities of the Times and their readers. They’re not happy about how gun rights advocates are crafting their messaging either.
The aggressive messaging around fear has also helped define a newer crop of gun rights groups that increasingly overshadow the more deep-pocketed, but troubled, N.R.A. These groups, supported by the industry, have adopted a raw, in-your-face advocacy of near limitless freedom to own and carry firearms. Gun Owners of America, which lists more than 30 gun-related companies as “partners,” proudly calls itself the “only no compromise gun lobby in Washington.”
Their tone has grown more extreme along with the public discourse around guns in general. The Firearms Policy Coalition, which has launched numerous court challenges to gun laws around the country, used to sell T-shirts and bumper stickers with anodyne pro-gun mottos such as “Shall Not Be Infringed.”
But today, its online store has gear emblazoned with barbs like – “Abolish the ATF” and “Go and Print It,” a reference to using 3-D printers at home to make untraceable ghost guns. On social media, the coalition whips up members with warnings of an “impending GUNPOCALYPSE” wrought by weak or corrupt Washington politicians.
Oh, the humanity.
What really has the Times in a tizzy, though, is how effective all of this pro-gun messaging has been.
In pressing the two-pronged campaign to sell more guns and weaken restrictions, the industry and activists have been informed by marketing research that shows an increasingly diverse pool of customers. Timothy Schmidt, president of the United States Concealed Carry Association, said the new generation of gun buyers encompasses city dwellers, suburbanites and those in rural areas.
“It’s not just the angry white male anymore,” he said “You’re seeing rising gun ownership among Blacks, among women. It’s really a different thing.”
Let’s get back to that quote from Josh Sugarman. When anti-gun groups and politicians use fear to market their “products,” somehow we don’t hear a peep about it from the likes of the New York Times or their media pals. Is screaming about “assault weapons” and “ghost guns” intended to inform the public…or scare the hell out of them and drive more donations?
In Maryland, about 700 people are killed w/ guns each year and Black people are 8x more likely than white people to die by gun homicide.
— Brady | United Against Gun Violence (@bradybuzz) February 17, 2022
Firearms makers’ campaigns may very well play up events like 9/11, Katrina, or the Y2K bug, but gun control industry marketing — and fund-raising — always kicks into overdrive whenever there’s a mass casualty event.
Politicians and the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex always shifts into high gear in a mad rush to pass gun control laws (marketed as “gun safety,” of course) as quickly as possible following a high profile shooting. The strategy is to act while the fear and hysteria are at their peak and before public attention inevitably fades.
Will we see reporting by the Times calling out these groups and politicians as vultures, deriding them for feeding on the still-warm bodies of supermarket shoppers and schoolchildren? Don’t hold your breath.
As for gun makers, in times of soaring crime, political violence, defunded and understaffed police departments, increased 911 response times, zero bail policies, and prosecutors who don’t prosecute, is it any wonder that firearm sellers gear their pitches toward people who are concerned about self-defense and protecting their families?
Yet that’s always treated as somehow beyond the pale. Evil merchants of death playing on stupid, gullible consumers’ worst instincts. At the same time gun control advocacy orgs use the same events to convince a different segment of the public that the only answer is to give up more of their rights.
It’s almost as of the media operates using a blatant double standard that supports their own particular editorial stances. But, as anyone on the side of the right to keep and bear arms can tell you, being subjected to double standards is nothing new.