You’ve probably seen the articles or the near breathless television stories.
Anti-gun activists are taking a page from the proverbial anti-tobacco playbook. The lead sentence reads something like: “The firearms industry is in decline and faces a dark future; therefore it must attract new consumers, a.k.a. children. The churlish denizens of this industry will do so by designing products for and marketing them to children.”
OK, so maybe I exaggerate slightly in the characterization, but only ever so slightly. Ridiculous as this story-line is, we may be tempted to leave it alone. After all, with the story narrative already established, when a reporter calls or we see a story in print, is it even realistic to think we can and should offer a counter narrative?
Let’s begin with personal experience. For those of us introduced by family members or friends to hunting, target shooting or just plain plinking in our teen-age or (gasp!) even our pre-teen years, as was my experience growing up in Pennsylvania, we know this line of thinking is just wrong-headed. But if the reporter grew up in a city never having picked up a single-shot .22- cal. rifle to plink at pop cans, knows guns only as weapons used in street crime and, has been subject to a steady pater of anti-gun talk from liberal arts professors and politicians – he or she doesn’t know any better.
When an anti-gun activist endorses the shrill narrative in the wake of a tragic, accidental shooting as recently happened in Kentucky, it sounds right to this journalist. It’s up to us to remind this person, and maybe it’s not a reporter, but just someone we encounter in a social setting, that millions of Americans are introduced safely to firearms every year, as they have been for generations, and that we know how to safely use and store them.
As to the state of our industry, well, we have more new customers than ever. Sales have been at record highs, month after month, for nearly three years. And you don’t have to take our words for it. Tell them to Google NICS. In our stores and at our ranges are an increasing number of women and an ethnic diversity that represents America.
As for safety overall, accidents with firearms are the lowest level that they’ve ever been and the National Safety Council has been crunching the numbers since 1903! As for the firearms “marketed to children”, smaller single-shot .22LR rifles have been around for many decades. Ask the Boy Scouts. But were they available in bright colors? No, but neither were many other products before the widespread introduction of plastics. Our industry has actually lagged behind in that regard. Last but not least, you have to be an adult to purchase a firearm. That’s always a good reminder.
So, if a youngster, boy or girl, sees an ad in an outdoor publication for a smaller frame-rifle and asks mom or dad if he or she can get one for a birthday, what exactly is so bad about that? And what better way is there to introduce the safe handling of firearms than with a rifle that’s easier to handle and shoot? Incumbent upon the adult family members is ensuring the safe storage of that rifle, of course. Manufacturers, the NRA and NSSF have provided safety materials and training for years. Accidents are rare, tragedies rarer still, because of these efforts and the level-headedness clearly resident in the vast, vast majority of American households that own firearms.
We have come to learn that there are many of our fellow citizens, some of whom work in the media, unfortunately, who cannot or will not understand that target shooting on a Saturday afternoon is just plain fun and that teaching youngsters how to safely handle firearms de-mystifies them and makes families safer. It does not open an addictive path to irresponsibility, accidents and crime – quite the contrary. And there’s nothing wrong, therefore, in growing our consumer base in this way. It’s part of an American tradition. It’s what families do – if not in New York City or in San Francisco, then in the most of the country.
The next time you see one of these stories, write a letter to the editor or send an email to the program manager and on-air reporter. Take exception. Talk about your own experience. Tell them to talk with others of us. In other words, counter the false narrative. You can even invite them out to the range, if you’re feeling generous and think it could make a difference. But tell them to leave the camera behind and just come out to have some fun. They would benefit from an experience they’ve likely never had.
Chris Dolnack is senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDolnack.