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When my then-editor, Loren Feldman, and I agreed that I’d cover the business of guns, he told me he thought I’d take the reader along on a journey as I discovered the beat.
After more than a year of writing, I have learned more than I ever could have guessed about weapons — even though I come from a family that has seen generations of military service stretching back to the Revolutionary War.
I’ve grown to know the landscape better over time — the nonprofits, the lobbying organizations, the many small businesses; the gun manufacturers and the defense contractors, the outfitters and the hunting celebrities. I’ve started to see more about the entrenched dynamics that give the United States its world-class gun violence problem. LINK
Lately, I’ve started to understand more about how guns are marketed in the United States. We have an astonishingly large minority of the world’s guns here, 393 million, according to the Small Arms Survey.
And since guns hardly ever wear out, whatever marketing the gun industry is doing, is obviously successful.
Of course, there are some guns that are still marketed as tools, used for hunting, or purely as collectibles, as items of beauty. Guns are an accessory to a day out at the gun range.
But the larger share — it’s hard to estimate how large it is, because there aren’t good numbers on how many guns are sold in the United States — are bought as tokens of political belonging and as luxury brand items. A gun connotes a wild kind of fun, like a sports car, even if you never drive it. It’s a toy for a grown-up boys, and increasingly, grown-up girls.
Much of the marketing of the gun industry and the gun rights lobbying groups is aimed at people who buy and own guns as part of an identity they’re building for themselves. Some of them are super-buyers.
Guns will help you feel powerful. Guns will give you an identity as a protector. Owning guns, especially the right guns, will help you feel part of a group.
The Second Amendment is one of the world’s most effective marketing slogans. Of course it’s more than that. It’s a Constitutional Amendment, one distinguished legal scholars have argued over for hundreds of years. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
But I also see it used in marketing messages for gun rights lobbying groups, like this one from the NRA.
Gun dealers and manufacturers use it in their marketing, on fliers and in signage around their stores. Why? It connects the purchase and use of a gun to a whole set of conservative American values, including the idea that the head of a household — most often a man — ought to protect that household. “We’re supposed to be prepared,” as one gun owner told me.
The Second Amendment has the same effect as a photograph of Kate Middleton wearing a dress a designer wants to sell by the thousands to other women. It evokes an identity and puts it in reach. Buy this dress; be a princess. Buy a gun; be a man; be a protector.
If you think the end of the world is coming or that liberals are coming for your weapons, there’s no end to the number of guns you need in order to be an adequate protector.
I’ve seen the First Amendment used to sell newspaper subscriptions, but never this successfully.
A direct connection to the military sells. The military is constantly investing in new research and weaponry to upgrade its ability to wage war. What I didn’t realize when I started writing about guns is that there is a direct conduit from the military to the civilian market.
The appeal of military-style weapons is obvious: People like to play soldier, even people who have never been one in real life. And some returning soldiers like their weapons.
Some designs for weapons are likely classified. But there’s a whole industry of small and large manufacturers standing at the ready to piece together weapons that are close to military grade for the civilian market.
Not long ago I came across a story on www.guns.com about a company marketing a weapon very similar to the one that killed Osama bin Laden.
It’s charging $12,500 for the weapon.
As the military continues its pursuit of better weapons, there are always new guns to introduce to the civilian market.
As with all luxury items, there are ways to keep consumers hooked. Some people say guns are tools — but nobody buys 10 chain saws in varying colors and speeds. (I once saw a set of pink tools given at a while elephant Christmas party: But they were mostly a joke.) If buying a gun makes you feel like a protector, buying 10 different ones shows everybody else that you’re not only a protector, but a wealthy one.
Given marketing strategies one or two, I wonder at one of the next developments in America’s entwined gun business and business of gun politics. Could we one day see a court case aiming to expand the definition of “arms,” to include drones?
March 1, 2019 at 12:58AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs