Why Johnny can shoot

The firearms industry uses federal tax dollars to promote guns--and gun politics--to school kids as young as 9.

A partnership between the government and the gun industry is marketing guns to kids in school. By 1999 more than 26 million students will have been exposed to a marketing program designed by the industry's leading trade association--the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). The program, paid for in large part with federal tax dollars, aims to increase firearm sales and reduce support for gun control.

In 1993, the NSSF received nearly $230,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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.

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The NSSF has made the link between wildlife management 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 young 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.

Although federal funding of the NSSF's marketing program is new, the organization's outreach to America's youth is not. Its own informational material asks, "How old is old enough?" and answers, "Age is not the major yardstick. Some youngsters are ready to start at 10, others at 14. The only real measures are those of maturity and individual responsibility. Does your youngster follow directions well? Would you leave him alone in the house for two or three hours? Would you send him to the grocery store with a list and a $20 bill? If the answer to these questions or similar ones are 'yes,' then the answer can also be 'yes' when your child asks for his first gun."

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

At issue is not hunting, but whether any industry should, with federal funds, use our schools to increase the sale of its product and bolster its political base. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges the program's benefits to the gun industry. Says USFWS spokesperson Craig Rieben, "They've got a product. They're looking for a market. That's their world."

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: Likely new USFWS grantees include an NSSF-linked program designed to increase gun sales to women.

This article is taken from a new study by the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center: "Use the Schools: How Federal Tax Dollars Are Spent to Market Guns to Kids."

Take Action!

Stop the use of Federal tax dollars to market guns to kids--or anyone. Write Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Department of the Interior, 1849 C ST., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240.