How the Gun Industry Got Rich Stoking Fear About Obama
Like all companies, gunmakers face threats to their profits and survival, such as uncertain access to necessary commodities (including steel and wood) and a dependence on key retail suppliers like Walmart. But the biggest challenge to the industry is, ironically, the durability of its product. Longtime gun industry lobbyist Richard Feldman says he used to chide gunmakers: “You make a product for $300, and somebody could buy this revolver and, by the time they are 80, they’ll have fired $10,000 worth of ammunition through it.”
In short, guns aren’t like shoes that wear out every couple of years or cars that might last a decade. A gun that’s taken care of should last a lifetime. Such a durable product can be a problem for the industry that makes it. That’s why it’s crucial not only to attract new customers, but to get gun owners to buy multiple guns. And that’s where the twin fears of crime and confiscation—hyped by America’s massive gun marketing complex—come in.
The US murder rate is 44 percent lower than it was in 1995, but you wouldn’t know it reading the gun press. Most gun publications—like Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times and Rifle Firepower—are glorified catalogs in which the line between editorial and advertising is virtually nonexistent. Many are selling more than guns; they’re also pitching fear. Take the cover of July’s Handguns magazine, which bellowed “RAGING BULL: Why stopping an attacker is harder than you think,” or June’s Combat Handguns, which offered features like “HOME INVASION AFTERMATH: When Survival Isn’t Enough.” The summer issue of Personal & Home Defense provided readers with “panic room essentials,” tips on selecting “your three-gun battery” and an exhortation to “Survive Violent Attacks—Don’t Be a Victim.”
Gunmakers play a role as advertisers and promoters of alarmist content. Hornady, a major ammunition manufacturer, sponsors a raft of TV shows, including Personal Defense, whose current-season promos claim—with no clear statistical basis—that the United States sees 71,000 home invasions a year. Gunmakers like to stir fear on their websites, too: Mossberg makes a none-too-subtle allusion to post-Katrina violence when it says that, “whether it’s survival in the backcountry, or hurricane season on the coast, one can never be too prepared for the unexpected.”
Tom Diaz, a researcher at the Violence Policy Center, calls it “fear marketing.” And it’s clearly effective: Remington boasts that its “brand awareness” is second only to Nike’s.
But while gun-themed TV shows and magazines pump up the threat of crime, the undeniable decrease in violence nationwide naturally limits its marketing potential. Fortunately, the fear of gun regulation and confiscation is every bit as powerful and much more malleable. It can always be lurking right around the corner. Just ask the NRA.
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The NRA has been sounding the alarm over Barack Obama since at least 2008, when it called the then–presidential candidate a “serious threat to Second Amendment liberties” and later launched a website called GunBanObama.com. After the president was elected, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action warned, “American gun owners will soon be the targets of an attack dog named Rahm Emanuel.” Barely two months into the Obama administration, the NRA put out an alert called “The Coming Storm,” which described a “wish list of gun-prohibition measures” that the gun control lobby had presented to the White House. Gun sales—which fell 23 percent the first year that George W. Bush was president—soared 23 percent in 2009.
Yet the “coming storm” blew past without incident, as Obama took up none of the wish list measures. Attorney General Eric Holder said in 2009 that the administration wanted a new ban on “assault weapons,” but the bid was quickly dropped. Instead, Obama signed a bill that year permitting guns to be carried in national parks. “Obama has done everything in his power to stay away from the gun issue,” Feldman says.
Obama’s inaction on guns earned him an F in 2009 from the pro–gun control Brady Center. Yet on the eve of the 2010 midterm elections, the NRA warned that unless people voted for a pro-gun Senate, Obama would be in the position to pick a Supreme Court that “puts democracy in peril.”
In 2011, after Representative Gabby Giffords was shot in the head and six others killed by Jared Lee Loughner, who was wielding a Glock handgun with an extended magazine, Obama gave a nice speech but offered no policy. When the Trayvon Martin shooting in February pointed up the problems with “Stand Your Ground” laws, Obama delivered a moving statement but no substance.
Yet the NRA’s rhetoric reached a fever pitch this spring and summer, with the association warning in a fundraising letter that a second term for Obama would give him “free rein to declare all-out war on our gun rights and rip the Second Amendment right out of our Bill of Rights.”
The “Fast and Furious” controversy gave the gun lobby what at least looked like live ammo rather than blanks. The now infamous operation was tragically mishandled and made worse by the administration, which proffered false statistical claims in its own defense. But much of the manufactured outrage on the right clearly sought to vindicate its depiction of Obama as a gun-grabber. After the probe into the scandal, the White House imposed a modest regulation requiring gun stores in the four Southern border states to report to the ATF whenever anyone purchases more than one rifle with a detachable magazine within five days. NRA allies introduced legislation to keep the rule from being implemented, and the NSSF and NRA sued unsuccessfully to block it.
The intertwined fears of crime and gun confiscation were on display months later in the wake of the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado. The Denver Post reported a spike in gun sales as people prepared either for their own encounter with a redheaded lunatic or a government crackdown on guns.
The latter doesn’t seem very likely. During the Aurora shooting, at least four men died after throwing themselves into the line of fire to protect others, but the Obama White House has betrayed no such instinct. In speeches and statements, the administration called for stronger background checks but stressed over and over that it intends to “protect the Second Amendment rights of the American people.”
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