Gunmakers in the United States are under intense scrutiny over how they market guns to young consumers following the Uvalde and Bison shootoutsin which two 18-year-old male suspects purchased semi-automatic weapons shortly before carrying out the attacks.
weapons like the AR-style guns used in mass shootings are often marketed on social media through posts designed to appeal to young adults and teens, say gun control advocates and experts. Messages from these campaigns often seek to present them as badass and ready to take on home intruders and other threats.
Take the Instagram account of Daniel Défense, which markets its semi-automatic weapons to nearly 600,000 followers. The tightly held gunsmith’s marketing approach is coming under greater scrutiny, as one of his firearms – an AR-15 type weapon – was used to kill 19 elementary school students and two teachers during the Uvalde massacre. The accused shooter purchased the weapon shortly after his 18th birthday, the age at which he could legally purchase a semi-automatic weapon such as an AR-15.
Daniel Defense’s Instagram account features photos of members of the military holding his guns, as well as celebrities such as actor Josh Brolin in “Sicario 2” and Grammy-nominated singer Post Malone brandishing his wares. Among Gunsmith’s favorite hashtags are #gunporn and #pewpew, the latter referring to the sound effect of guns in TV shows and cartoons. His posts also often depict young men holding the company’s guns. Daniel Defense and other arms manufacturers have also introduced payment plans to help consumers purchase AR-style weapons in installments.
“Priming the Youth”
Gun manufacturers generally do not advertise on television because companies such as Comcast have restrictions against showing their advertisements and those of ammunition manufacturers. Instead, gun sellers have taken to social media to market guns to consumers, typically delivering messages that link their guns to law enforcement, the military and to a sense of patriotism, according to a 2020 study conducted by researchers at Drew University.
“What you’re seeing is the industry, by marketing them to kids, is preparing young people for the day they turn 18 and go out and buy their first assault rifle,” said Josh Sugarmann, director executive of the gun control group Violence Policy Center, which examined the gun industry’s marketing to youth and children in a 2016 report titled “Start young.”
Semi-automatic gun makers tend to use three strategies to appeal to younger consumers, Sugarmann said. First, some ads portray the gun owner as a hero on a mission, while a second approach is to align their guns with those used by the military or law enforcement. Finally, gun owners can be portrayed as struggling against an invisible force, such as government control.
“You have children who are exposed to this,” he said. “There is no one who controls the sites, unlike tobacco or alcohol where you have to say you are 21” to access the site.
The marketing of gunsmiths, particularly for the type of semi-automatic weapons used in the two mass shootings, is now attracting the attention of lawmakers, with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform asking gunsmiths, including Daniel Defense and Sig Sauer, to provide information on the production, marketing and sale of firearms used in mass killings.
“Despite decades of rising gun deaths and mass murders from assault rifles, your company has continued to market assault weapons to civilians, reaping a profit from the deaths of innocent Americans,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said in a May 26 letter to the CEO of Daniels Defense, Marty Daniels.
The committee holds a gun violence hearing on June 8, relatives of some of the Uvalde and Buffalo victims were scheduled to testify. No armorer is to appear.
Lawyers for the family of Amerie Jo Garza, one of the children killed in Uvalde, have asked Daniel Defense to preserve evidence including marketing plans, social media campaigns and advertising, according at the Texas Tribune. A team attorney, Josh Koskoff, won a $73 million settlement for the families of Sandy Hook victims after pursuing a legal strategy that the marketing of the weapon used in the tragedy violated Connecticut’s fair trade laws.
Koskoff did not return a request for comment. Daniels Defense did not return a request for comment on lawmakers’ scrutiny or its marketing approach.
From hunting to self-defense
Gun manufacturers “can strongly influence gun culture through their advertising and marketing practices, as in any industry,” said Michael Siegel, a visiting professor at Tufts University School of Medicine who studies gun culture. intersection of firearms, marketing and public health.
Firearms industry marketing “influences a range of aspects of gun culture, including the perceived purpose or uses of firearms; images, symbols, values and identity associated with gun ownership; and of course the demographic makeup of the gun-owning population,” he added.
While America’s gun culture has historical roots in hunting, that activity has declined since the late 1970s, according to the Violence Policy Center. In 1977, around 32% of households included an adult hunter, but that figure had fallen to 15% by 2014, he found. Today, about 4 percent of the U.S. population hunts, and one-third of hunters are baby boomers, according to to research from North Carolina State University.
But arms purchases have not diminished. Instead, sales jumped in recent years, in part because gunmakers have been emphasizing a new reason for owning firearms: self-defense.
“They created this myth specifically because they needed a ploy to increase sales in light of a declining market for hunting and recreational guns,” Siegel said. “It was awesome and it worked extremely effectively.”
He added: “The majority of gun owners today say the primary purpose of their gun purchase was self-defense.”
Granted, many gunsmiths’ social media posts and marketing approaches aren’t specifically aimed at younger consumers. But gun experts contrast the lack of oversight in firearms marketing with the heavily regulated ads for other products considered dangerous to public health, such as tobacco products.
“Unlike many other consumer products, the marketing of firearms is essentially unregulated,” Siegel said. “You can’t legally market an e-cigarette to a 17-year-old, but nothing stops companies from targeting 17-year-olds with ads for assault weapons or any other type of firearm. fire.”
He added: “Obviously we need to think about restrictions on the marketing and sale of firearms the same way we do other potentially harmful products.”
Meanwhile, after the Uvalde shooting, Daniel Defense locked down his Twitter account, preventing followers from commenting or sharing tweets, with one of his posts drawing public criticism for his depiction of a toddler holding an AR-style semi-automatic weapon in his lap (The company’s Instagram account remains open.)
The image included a quote urging parents to ‘train a child in the way he should go’ so that he ‘does not stray from it’, which Siegel called a marketing message aimed at portraying the possession of as ‘pure and natural and part of the essence of life.’
Gun control advocates say they hope the industry’s marketing practices, particularly in ads aimed at teens and other young consumers, will come under greater scrutiny in the wake of the recent shootings. The House Oversight Committee’s request for data on marketing by major arms manufacturers “is a very important step forward to begin to explore what these companies’ marketing plans are and focus on this issue,” said Sugarmann.
But Siegel said he doesn’t blame gunsmiths, given that they operate in a relatively unregulated environment.
“Ironically, it’s not the arms manufacturers that I ultimately hold responsible,” he said. “The members of Congress themselves will be asking them the questions. After all, it was not Daniel Defense who decided that an 18-year-old should be able to buy an assault rifle.”