Following the terrible murders at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th, 2012, three trends have emerged in the USA: strong active self-defence sales, increased passive self-defence sales and increasing concentration of gun ownership. These trends are, in a sense, one and the same.
First, perhaps fearing that the new laws will be enacted restricting the sale and ownership of military-style or semi-automatic firearms (or high-capacity magazines), US citizens have crowded into gun stores. Many businesses report that they have since experienced record sales.
At the US Firearms Academy in Reno, Nevada, owner Mark Hessler is ecstatic about assault rifle (AR) sales. Mark says that every time a liberal politician or high-profile celebrity spouts off about gun control, his cash register rings.
The second trend is in a rise in the sale of passive self-defence items such as home security cameras, motion detectors, pepper sprays and armoured backpacks for children.
The average game-scouting camera from Cuddeback, Moultrie or Bushnell will serve wonderfully for home-perimeter awareness, taking still photos or videos and recording sound. If it is connected to a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) wireless service, a properly positioned camera can record every movement around the home, from the neighbour’s dog pooping in the yard to intruders, and relay the images instantly to your computer screen.
Body armour has now been incorporated into backpacks for schoolchildren and Amendment II co-owner Derek Williams of Salt Lake City, Utah, has been widely quoted saying: “We didn’t get in this business [manufacturing body armour] to do this, but the fact is that our armour can help children just as it can help soldiers.”
Who owns what?
The third trend, and one that is very important for the long run is that, while sales of firearms in the USA have unquestionably grown, gun ownership has become evermore concentrated.
The Connecticut murderer, Adam Lanza, took guns belonging to his mother, Nancy – and then killed her. He was 20 years old.
The murderer in the Aurora, Colorado theatre shootings, James Holmes, was 25 years old. Jared Loughner was 22 when he attempted to murder US Representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. Seung-Hui Cho was 23 when he killed 32 and wounded 17 at Virginia Tech in 2011.
The shooters in the above cases and thousands of others – thousands, but certainly not all (and the above cases do not represent a scientifically valid statistical sample) – were young.
But US gun ownership has become demographically concentrated, although not among the young. Reported trends suggest that fewer individuals, primarily older white males, are expanding their personal gun collections.
According to a 2007 study by Harvard University, about 20 per cent of all US gun owners possess 65 per cent of all civilian firearms. Half of the 20 per cent reported owning four or more guns.
Another survey by the University of Chicago indicates that the real percentage of Americans owning firearms has declined dramatically.
In 1980 about a third of US citizens owned guns; today that number has fallen by a third to about 21 per cent and only 10 per cent of women are armed.
This is despite long waiting lines at National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) First Shots events, where individuals who have never handled a gun before can take supervised practice shots and learn the basic principles of gun safety.
Paradox and irony
It is an enormous irony – and perfectly illustrates the American paradox – that the murderous assault on the school in Newtown took place just around the corner from the headquarters of the NSSF, the owner of the SHOT Show.
Months before that January 2013 international shooting business event, NSSF senior vice-president Chris Dolnack predicted a record turnout of more than 60,000 people.
The NSSF’s public outreach with First Shots is only one of a number of initiatives designed to pull Americans away from their addictive electronic devices and introduce them to the world of hunting, shooting and an active, engaged lifestyle.
The Archery Trade Association sponsors the National Archery in the Schools Program. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point promotes BOW – Becoming an Outdoor Woman – a non-profit-making, educational scheme offering hands-on workshops to adult women in every US state and Canadian province: “We encourage a supportive environment conducive to learning, making friends, and having fun.”
And there’s the rub. No-one is going on a mass killing spree with a bow and arrow or an atlatl (spear thrower), but firearms give an opportunity to isolated and perhaps lonely and angry (or simply mystified and clueless) individuals to call attention to themselves and their needs, regardless of the pain they cause others.
This is where NSSF’s First Shots programme – and others like it – are extraordinarily valuable… and not just socially but from a business perspective too.
To grow the shooting sports beyond the older collector generation that is buying a fourth or fifth gun, we have to reach out much more dramatically.
We have to reach down generationally to youth and offer education as well as experience.
(It is the author’s firm belief that not one of the people who takes up firearms and begins shooting friends, relatives and neighbours, has been a graduate of such a programme as First Shots or Archery in the Schools or BOW.)
Not only does a scheme like First Shots give experience pulling a trigger but it introduces young people to role models and to a community and it appears that, in almost every case of a young person on a shooting spree, they were marginalised individuals, not members of an effective community of interest.
Risk and insurance
We cannot eliminate all risk. Tornadoes will kill people in the USA this year. Heat waves will destroy crops in Europe; earthquakes will crush sleeping Asian families beneath tons of debris.
We can, on the other hand, begin to minimise risk. We can buy insurance. By supporting programmes that bring marginalised groups and individuals into the shooting sports community, through areas like First Shots, we buy insurance.
Paradoxically, by teaching someone to shoot, bringing them into the business to handle firearms and meet the professional staff, and teaching them to hit what they are shooting at, we provide for the future of our children and our way of life.