Responding to Americans’ declining interest in shooting sports, gun manufacturers are developing programs to market their products to younger children. The National Shooting Sports Foundation trade association and the industry-funded National Rifle Association spend millions of dollars annually to recruit kids as gun enthusiasts. And those efforts increasingly focus on pushing semi-automatic assault weapons, including the very model used by the shooter in the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.
The New York Times reports:
The pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-supported magazine that seeks to get children involved in the recreational use of firearms, once featured a smiling 15-year-old girl clutching a semiautomatic rifle. At the end of an accompanying article that extolled target shooting with a Bushmaster AR-15 — an advertisement elsewhere in the magazine directed readers to a coupon for buying one — the author encouraged youngsters to share the article with a parent.
“Who knows?” it said. “Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!”
The industry’s youth-marketing effort is backed by extensive social research and is carried out by an array of nonprofit groups financed by the gun industry, an examination by The New York Times found. The campaign picked up steam about five years ago with the completion of a major study that urged a stronger emphasis on the “recruitment and retention” of new hunters and target shooters.
Federal law prohibits the sale of rifles to those under age 18. But through programs at Boy Scout camps and 4-H clubs, the NRA trains children on how to safely shoot single-shot rifles. And, according to the report: “Newer initiatives by other organizations go further, seeking to introduce children to high-powered rifles and handguns while invoking the same rationale of those older, more traditional programs: that firearms can teach ‘life skills’ like responsibility, ethics and citizenship.”
This effort seems eerily similar to the marketing strategy employed by the tobacco industry in the 1980s. Recognizing that the number of smokers in America was declining — and dying off — cigarette companies sought to addict underage children to ensure a continuing market for their product. A now infamous 1981 Philip Morris corporate memo noted that “[t]oday’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens. In addition, the 10 years following the teenage years is the period during which average daily consumption per smoker increases to the average adult level. The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Philip Morris.”
One gun-industry study noted a similar need to “start them young,” observing that “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.”