The Gun Industry Created a New Consumer—Now They're Killing UsBreaking News
tags: Second Amendment, guns, violence
Ryan Busse is the author of Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry That Radicalized America, and serves as a senior policy adviser to the gun-safety advocacy group Giffords.
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.
This is something I know a bit about, as someone who spent a quarter century in the business. Over my years as a rising executive with a successful gun manufacturer, I became more and more disturbed by the sort of firearms the industry was selling, how it was selling them, and to whom. Next week, I am testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at a hearing that, in the words of its chair, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, “will examine the role of gun manufacturers in flooding our communities with weapons of war and fueling America’s gun violence crisis.”
When I got my first job in the gun industry, in 1995, the marketing centered on hunting, target shooting, and responsible self-defense. Many advertisements evoked a love of craftsmanship and the outdoors, and some, like this 1995 Ruger ad, even directly addressed its customers as “responsible citizens”—a tagline the company dropped from its advertising in 2007.
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.
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