21. The New 3R'S: Reading, Writing, and Reloading

Source: MOTHER JONES Date: January/February 1995; "Why Johnny Can Shoot" Authors: Susan Glick and Josh Sugarmann

SYNOPSIS: If all goes as expected, by 1999 more than 26 million students will have been exposed to a marketing program that will entice them to buy guns and persuade them to argue against gun control.

The marketing program, a partnership between the government and the gun industry, is designed by the industry's leading trade association-the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

The program is paid for in large part by federal tax dollars.

In 1993, the NSSF received nearly $230,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to update and expand three videos on hunting and wildlife management. The videos, for grades 4 through 12, are free to public and private schools with enrollments of at least 300 students.

The NSSF made the link between schools and increased firearm sales crystal clear in a 1993 issue of S.H.O.T Business, its industry publication. A columnist tells dealers and manufacturers, "There's a way to help ensure that new faces and pocketbooks will continue to patronize your business: Use the schools .... Every decade there is a whole new crop of shining new faces taking their place in society as adults .... Will [they] be for or against a local ordinance proposal to ban those bad semiautos? Will they vote for or against even allowing a "gun store" in town? ....How else would you get these potential customers and future leaders together? .... Schools are an opportunity. Grasp it."

The NSSF proposal, submitted and approved under the Bush Administration, noted it would "make the initial offering to the largest schools .... This strategy reaches students in large cities and suburban areas where approval of hunting is lowest" -- and support for gun control strongest.

Among the more than 1,100 NSSF members which include America's leading gun manufacturers, many of whom actively target youth, are Remington Arms, Colt's Manufacturing, Smith & Wesson, Feather Industries, and Taurus.

The issue is not hunting, but whether any industry should, with federal funds, use public schools to increase the sale of its product and to build a political base.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges the program's benefits to the gun industry. USFWS spokesperson Craig Rieben said, "They've got a product. They're looking for a market."

Rieben says the USFWS sees no need to review the grant guidelines. And as it targets other niche markets, the firearms industry is banking on USFWS' "see no evil" attitude. Potential new USFWS grantees include an NSSF-linked program designed to increase gun sales to women.

SSU Censored Researcher: Stephanie Prather

COMMENTS: The authors, Susan Glick and Josh Sugarmann, reported, "While some notable print media and columnists took interest in the story, the story did not receive broader media coverage, especially television, for two reasons. The first was that most television reporters wanted the story to be simpler than it was. The Violence Policy Center obtained publications issued by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry's trade association, which clearly stated that the organization was working to use the schools to increase firearms sales to children and youth and that these videos were a key tool. The videos themselves, however, did not come right out and say "go buy guns, kids' but worked to soften up youth attitudes towards hunting and firearms as a means to this end. The insidious nature of the videos was too complex for many broadcast outlets who couldn't put the two pieces (the videos and the print statements) together but focused solely on the videos. The most notable practitioner of this superficial thinking was NBC's 'Dateline,' which pulled a story on the study at the last minute (a fact they neglected to tell us, but did tell the NSSF). Although we explained the story to a myriad of 'Dateline' producers in painful, repetitive detail, none of them ever quite got it. Of course, after the story was pulled, 'Datelines' inability to grasp it was cited as 'proof' by the NSSF to other media outlets that the story was not worth reporting. The second factor was that even though the NSSF said that they had nothing to hide regarding the program, the organization refused to make the list of schools that had received it readily available. This dramatically limited the opportunity for local and regional coverage.

"Most Americans would probably agree that the firearms industry should not be allowed to try and increase the sale of their products through America's school systems -- especially with federal tax dollars. Greater publicity about the program would allow parents and educators to identify where the program is being used and make schools aware of the video's true intent. It would also focus attention on the firearms industry's marketing program to children and youth and raise the question of whether in tight budgetary times the federal government should be subsidizing America's gun industry."

The authors say that the obvious beneficiary of the lack of coverage given this issue is America's firearms industry. They note that the industry, "in the wake of slumping handgun sales among the primary market of men, has focused its attention on women and children. One of the gun industry's greatest triumphs has been its ability to shield itself from public scrutiny and to have people think of it as something other than an "industry' possessing the same profit motive and marketing needs as any other."