This is the one fact you need to know to understand gun control in America: half the guns are held by 3% of the people.
First, let’s just make this clear: the other 50% of the guns still represents over a hundred million guns.
And let’s repeat the one fact that should lead to immediate gun control: two-thirds of the people who die of a gunshot wound – over 20,000 people a year – commit suicide, and most do it with the one gun they own, and half of them do it with a gun they bought in the last week, and the fact that the gun industry has fought tooth and nail to prevent even basic suicide prevention measures – that they have successfully lobbied, in fact to prevent treating gun deaths as a health issue – means that the gun industry has 20,000 deaths a year on their hands before you even start talking about the 10,000 times a year someone kills someone else with a gun. (For reference, about 60,000 Americans died in the entire Vietnam War).
The thing is … those 3% owning half the guns are not, on the whole, psychotic loony survivalists.
The business model for the gun industry is the hobbyist one: the same as for comics, or scrapbooking or model trains – you have a very small, but very loyal market, with a completist instinct, with the need to buy all sorts of accessories and equipment to display and organise their collection. And, as with comics, and scrapbooking and model trains, there are specialist hobby stores, and as with those other hobbies, it’s much easier to get an existing, regular customer to buy another thing than to get a new customer into your door. And the store owners want new products all the time, to make sure that their customers come by (and buy) every few weeks, not every few years.
Attempts by the gun industry to widen their market have failed dismally. They tried marketing smaller guns to women … women didn’t buy them. So, making lemonade from that lemon, they started telling their existing base that, sure, they owned a big gun, but what they needed was a little gun, one they could carry around, hidden for when they needed it. A problem with that was that it was illegal to carry a concealed gun … so the gun industry ‘lobbied’ (to use the polite word, because the actual words are so gauche) politicians at the state and federal level to pass ‘concealed carry’ legislation making it legal.
And the gun hobbyists hurried to the stores and bought the little lady guns that the gun companies hadn’t been able to sell to the ladies. And now they had another gun that needed kitting out and accessorising.
These gun hobbyists, the 50% … they won’t say this themselves, but the industry says it behind their backs: they collect Barbies. The gun industry calls the guns hobbyists buy ‘Barbie guns’. Because they’re not for self defense, they’re for dressing up with accessories – holsters, bags, sights … now silencers. It’s guys playing with little metal Barbies.
So here’s the problem: if you’re a comics fan, and the government decided that there had been too many people dressed as the Joker killing people (a thing that has happened at least twice), and so there should be background checks on people buying Batman comics, you’d think that was a ridiculous, impractical infringement of your legal rights, and wasn’t addressing the real problem. You would say, and you’d be right, ‘wait, just because I like Batman comics doesn’t mean I want to dress as the Joker and kill people’.
Then again … if the comics industry was killing 30,000 people a year, including 20,000 suicides, then I’d like to think that the comics companies and comic shops and comics fans would agree there was a problem, not spend millions ‘lobbying’ politicians so it became illegal for doctors to ask someone with suicidal thoughts if they had comics in their house.
The gun industry wants to keep making money, and with a saturated market made up of obsessive hobbyists, it has to push its customers ever further down the road of owning a massive bunker full of military grade weapons. Smith and Wesson, whose sales have collapsed recently, bought Gemtech, one of the biggest makers of silencers, earlier this year. For no reason at all except they want to sell a silencer to everyone who ever bought one of their guns. And … amazing coincidence, soon after Smith and Wesson did that, politicians they’d given money to started talking about making silencers legal.
And so the marketing of guns now is pushing the customer base deep into psychotic loony territory. With comics, you know you’ve crossed a line when you can reel off facts about the Earth-2 Hawkman that may not apply to the Rebirth version because the New 52 didn’t establish what happened to the post-Crisis status quo. With guns, it’s that there are now guns seriously marketed as ‘the best one to survive the zombie apocalypse’. Do people seriously think it will happen? That it might? Perhaps not zombies, but the exact threat doesn’t matter. Gun companies stoke inchoate paranoia that someone, some nebulous alien threat, is coming for gun owners, their families and their stuff.
Survivalist horders make for good repeat business. The business model of the gun industry has become to take their existing customers and to literally give them a bunker mentality.
There are two ways to fight it:
1. Get to the customers. Treat it like smoking, drink driving, seatbelts. Explain that they’re harming themselves and they’re handing their money over to an industry that doesn’t care about that. Make it clear that it won’t make them cool rebel Malboro Men, rather the opposite. Use the industry phrase ‘Barbie guns’ a lot.
2. Make it unprofitable for the gun industry to keep doing this. Make it easy for the families of the 30,000 people killed by guns every year to sue. If it was established that the industry bears some legal liability, then like the cigarette industry, like the alcohol industry, like the car industry, then the gun industry would be forced to start changing its marketing and product design.