Gun control proponents claim gun industry is marketing to kids

A group dedicated to promoting gun control has released a new study claiming that the firearms industry has been targeting children in their marketing.

The 54-page report, Start Them Young” – How the Firearms Industry and Gun Lobby are Targeting Your Children, was released by the Violence Policy Center on Feb. 18, and claims to document the ongoing efforts by the firearms industry and pro-gun lobbyists to market guns to grade-school age children for “financial and political gain.”

A release from the group explains that these marketing efforts have increased recently with almost no consideration to the resulting “lethal consequences,” which include “the use of guns by children and teens in suicides, homicides, fatal unintentional shootings and even mass murder.”

The group identifies an example from early February, when 11-year-old Benjamin Tiller was found guilty of murdering eight-year-old McKayla Dyer in White Pine, Tennessee, in October 2015, after she didn’t let him play with her puppy. The release indicates that police said the boy, who’d been trained in firearm safety and routinely hunted with his father, used his father’s shotgun in the homicide.

According to the release, Tiller was sentences to state custody until age 19, while his five siblings were placed with relatives and the state.

“Imagine the public outcry if the alcohol or tobacco industries introduced child-friendly versions of their adult products. Or imagine if they devised a plan to deploy ‘youth ambassadors’ to convince their playmates to join them in these adult activities. Yet the firearms industry and gun lobby are doing all of these things and more in their aggressive efforts to market guns to children,” said Josh Sugarmann, the VPC executive director and author of the study.

The VPC is an American nonprofit organization that advocates for an increase in gun control measures to combat gun violence, which is viewed by Sugarmann as more of a public health issue than a criminal one.

The study displays the scope of the marketing effort, which includes a number of photos; “gun industry advertisements, catalog copy, articles, marketing documents and quotes; NRA articles and materials for its ‘Junior Members’ and other youth;” and “For Kids By Kids” articles in the “youth-oriented” Junior Shooters gun publication.

The study offers a number of examples of how the firearms industry and lobbies target children, including:

  • Creating and marketing guns specifically to children, including the use of mascots like Crickett rifle’s “Davey Crickett;”
  • Promoting 22 caliber assault rifles with plastic incorporated into the design for “less recoil and lighter weight;”
  • Marketing guns in “child-friendly colors,” including pink, purple, orange, red, yellow and blue;
  • Encouraging parents to introduce firearms to their children “at the earliest possible age;”
  • Producing a number of “marketing research publications” that urge manufacturers and dealers to “target programs toward youth 12 years old and younger;”
  • And including children and teens in “3-Gun competitions,” where shooters “use three types of firearms on a timed circuit.”

The study also includes several recommendations for policymakers, which include:

  • Revising firearms laws so that possession standards match sale standards – 18 years old to possess or purchase long guns, and 21 years old for handguns;
  • Having the Federal Trade Commission investigate whether or not the industry is “inappropriately marketing firearms to children” or if any manufacturers are violating “applicable advertising standards” by placing products in video games marketed to minors.
  • Requiring gun manufacturer and vendor websites to have similar age restrictions and criteria to access as alcohol and tobacco sites;
  • Repealing the section of the Toxic Substances Control Act that prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the lead in ammunition;
  • And developing and implementing an effective public education campaign to warn youth and parents of the dangers associated with the “presence and use of firearms.”

However, the VPC has been criticized in the past over the content of its studies. The Crime Prevention Research Center published an article in 2014 that said VPC data on “concealed carry killers” had “massive errors,” such as double-counting homicide cases and attributing deaths to “permitted concealed handguns” without solid evidence.