It’s very difficult to write about anything coming out of the Violence Policy Center and not feel a tinge of disgust.
While the gun control movement in the United States is inherently dishonest—look at how often judges have thrown Brady Campaign “lawfare” suits out, or how many times Moms Demand Action/Everytown For Gun Safety have been caught fabricating “studies,” or how frequently the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s attempts to get gun owners in confrontations with police—Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center is usually among the most perverse and misleading figures in the gun prohibitionist movement.
Surprising no one, he’s the lead author of “Start Them Young” (PDF), a deplorable propaganda document attacking on the youth firearms safety market.
Sugarmann’s polemic starts with a disturbing picture of a small child wearing camouflage and holding a handgun. The photo is too grainy to tell whether it is real or a toy. Sugarman asserts on the following page that the picture could be the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, despite denials from the father that the picture was of either of his sons.
The “report” goes downhill rapidly from there.
Sugarmann does what he does best, cherry-picking innocuous sentences out of utterly benign documents and stringing them together like a ransom note in order to attack the firearms industry for “marketing to kids.”
Sugarmann’s introduction then cites the cases of three school shooters, asserting to parents that if your children show interest in firearms, then you’re probably raising a psychopath.
It’s the kind of intentionally dishonest propaganda we’ve come to expect from the man who coined the phrase “assault weapon” to describe any black and scary gun. He’s quickly off into fantasy land from there, attempting to tie the firearms industry with the tobacco industry.
The gun industry has long understood that it faces a slow-motion demographic collapse. With the industry’s customer base growing older, household gun ownership in America has steadily declined. As its primary market of white males ages and dies off, the firearms industry has set its sights on America’s children. Much like the tobacco industry’s search for replacement smokers, the gun industry is seeking replacement shooters to purchase its deadly products.
Firearms companies have teamed up with “corporate partners” like the National Rifle Association of America, the gun industry’s trade association the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and online publications such as Junior Shooters in an industry-wide effort to market firearms to kids. They do this by promoting websites and magazines targeted at children, designing “kid-friendly” guns to appeal to the youth market, and even working to create the equivalent of “’reality’ video” games to encourage gun use from an early age.
Like so many in the gun control cult, Sugarmann refuses to recognize the obvious reality around him, and so he makes up his own.
The recreational and sporting use of firearms is far from facing a “slow-motion demographic collapse.”
In fact, the opposite is true. Fully one-third of the 300+ million firearms owned by American citizens have been purchased within the past seven years, and instead of the market contracting, it has instead gone mainstream in a big way. Women, youth, and urban citizens are the fastest growing market segments, and are the core of what has been dubbed “Gun Culture 2.0.”
Gun Culture 1.0
From colonial times until fairly recently, the traditional path of gun ownership was from a father to his sons, with the primary emphasis being on firearms for hunting and home/farm/ranch defense. It was primarily a suburban to rural tradition, with kids picking up firearms for the first time in the 6-12 year-old range,depending on social mores of the time and area.
Gun safety training was often passed down father to son, but was also taught in schools, as a Time magazine article noted back in 1956.
An editor looking back at this photo series from Indiana in 1956 noted the National Rifle Association’s interest in promoting gun safety to kids:
Love or hate the NRA — and no one, it seems, is indifferent toward the organization — logic that stresses education and safety around firearms is something that pretty much all of us can get behind. Isn’t it?
In the case of the Violence Policy Center, it is obvious that calling for logic, education, and safety is something they simply cannot bear to consider.
Gun Culture 2.0
While I don’t have the opportunity to volunteer with Project Appleseed as much as I’d like to in recent years, it was always very clear that the basic rifle marksmanship classes we offered were drawing entire families and friend peer groups, not just fathers and sons. Likewise, firearms ranges around the nation are consistently noting that younger shooters, female shooters, and ethnic minorities are all increasingly interested in almost every kind of shooting.
In fact, shooting is the fastest growing high school sport in the United States.
As even the rabidly anti-gun Washington Post begrudgingly admitted in a recent article about small-bore rifle shooting in schools around Washington DC, it’s a “sport for anyone.” You don’t have to be big, or strong, or fast, or athletic. You have to be disciplined, consistent, and patient.
Almost certainly to Sugarmann’s dismay, many parents who were at first apprehensive about their kids picking up the shooting sports were thrilled to discover that shooting helps youth develop focus and concentration, which often translates to academic and life success.
Put bluntly, shooting sports encourage traits that help transform kids into better all-around people.
An Inability to Tell the Truth
Sugarmann is (inadvertently) at his most amusing when he gets cause and effect reversed.
Blinded by his own deep, wide, and fanatical prejudices, Sugarmann is convinced that the firearms industry makes firearms to convince children to take up the shooting sports. The opposite is in fact true.
Youths see adults (often family members) finding a great amount of enjoyment in shooting sports. This obviousl enjoyment draws the interest of these younger shooters (and market demand from their parents). This market demand convinced manufacturers to build firearms better sized and suited for youth shooters. Accommodations have been made in size and weight and cartridge selection to scale things down to make shooting safe for youth shooters.
Take a look again at the rifle that the classroom full of students were looking at in 1956.
While the lessons on gun safety being taught at the time were still vital, the firearms of the age were still often a bit large and awkward for younger shooters.
Today’s manufacturers, such as Keystone Sporting Arms, are correcting that problem. You’ll note that the three rifles shown below from Keystone’s .22LR single-shot rifle line have shorter stocks, are lighter, and better suited for new shooters.
These singe-shot rifles specifically designed for youth shooters have very simple controls and deliberate safeties to be used under adult supervision to help ingrain good habits and develop deliberate processes.
As younger shooters get older, they often transition from these single-shot .22LR guns to other rifles, shotguns, and pistols. This gives Sugarmann absolute fits, as he sees younger shooters flocking to sports such as three-gun competitions.
A propagandist to his core, Sugarmann ignores the fact that shooting sports are the safest sports for youth—he can’t find a single instance of a competitive shooter being injured via gunshot during training or a match—and instead attempts to conflate gang crime and suicide with youth shooting sports.
I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. He really is this rotten.
In 2014, more than 1,300 children under the age of 18 died from firearms: 699 homicides, 532 suicides, 74 unintentional shootings,105 and 19 from undetermined intent. From 1999 to 2014, nearly 23,000 children under the age of 18 died from guns: 13,756 homicides, 6,903 suicides, 1,723 unintentional shootings, and 395 from undetermined intent.
What the Violence Policy Center won’t tell you is that not one of these homicides, suicides, or unintentional shootings was tied to the responsible use of firearms by trained shooters.
Here in reality, we know that the vast majority of the “children under the age of 18” killed in homicides are associated with criminal behavior, typically involved in violent street gangs. Likewise, the unintentional shootings of youths with a found gun almost always echo the same story; a convicted felon who cannot legally possess firearms carelessly left a loaded gun on a counter or in a drawer or under a pillow where a child could find it, and did.
Youth suicides also typically follow a similar pattern, where untrained and depressed youth had access to firearms that were not securely stored by responsible parents.
Meanwhile, Back In Reality…
Josh Sugarmann, like other supporters of gun confiscation, are in a panic.
They’ve been lying about the firearms industry, gun owners, gun safety, and crime for so long that very few people take them seriously anymore.
Frankly, they’re generally viewed as kooks. The data simply doesn’t support their outlandish claims.
Firearms sales are at an all-time high, at the same time per-capita homicides and accidents with firearms are at the lowest point in U.S. history according to the FBI.
More and more people, both male and female, and across all demographics, are being drawn to the joys and challenges of both informal target shooting and formal competitions.
Sugarmann knows that if he and his allies can’t find a way to stem the tide of Americans of all ages, sexes, and races flocking towards the joys of lawful gun ownership, then his his life’s work has gone for naught.
The Violence Policy Center is well aware that it represents one small part of of dying cause, a modern day Temperance Movement being swept aside by a culture that is too well-educated and connected to be easily conned.
Josh is worried that if he can’t turn things around, and soon, then he’ll have to get a real job.
I can’t blame him.