Authorities in Hondo, Texas, cancelled a permit that allowed an NRA-affiliated group, to hold a fundraiser on city property, in August. The event featured a raffle for an AR-15This assault rifle was used in the massacre of 21 people in Uvalde last year. At a city council meeting, families of the victims read the names of the slain, cradled their portraits, and denounced the arms lobby’s audacity. “It is a slap in the face to all of Uvalde,” explained Jazmin CazaresThe victim was a sister who was killed in the massacre.
To avoid industry contraction, arms manufacturers have adopted the youth market as gun ownership in the U.S. falls. Trade magazines like Junior ShootersChildren are openly sold rifles. A recent lawsuit also revealed that Remington sales tactics target minors.
The NRA and Uvalde families clashed, highlighting the polarizing strategy of arms manufacturers and their political heft. But it also reveals the irreducible economic interest of arms makers. Despite the industry claiming to protect the Constitution and individual liberty it has created a massive epidemic of gun violence by liberalizing markets while aggressively pursuing its profits.
The Political Turn
For half a century, arms makers have mobilized to destroy barriers to the industry’s growth and profits. In fact, the modern gun lobby grew out of mounting pressure to control guns.
Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963 using a Mannlicher Carcano, a surplus rifle he had purchased. through the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine. Three years later, a University of Texas at Austin sniper killed 14 people. This further fuelled calls for reform, and inspired Peter Bogdanovich’s classic thriller. Targets.
After Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy were shot to death, President Lyndon Johnson signed “The Gun Control Act” (1968). It established regulations regarding mail order purchases and prohibited those with felony convictions, drug addicts, and people with intellectual disabilities buying arms.
Its passage provoked fierce industry resistance. Arms manufacturers reacted by turning their economic power into political power, wading into the nascent culture wars. They made guns powerful symbols of American masculinity and grassroots democracy, and rugged individualism.
By the late 1970s Harlon CarterWhile leading the NRA, he also pioneered the brand of reactionary populism Donald Trump later adopted. In particular, he employed the coded rhetoric of “law and order” to talk about race and promote arms sales in the same breath. Before joining border patrol Carter murdered a Latino boyTexas is known for its brutal enforcement of the color line.
Under his leadership, the industry propounded an “individual rights” interpretation of the Second Amendment, claiming that the Constitution enshrined the right of all citizens to own guns — a novel argument that held little water in legal circles.
The NRA joined the electoral fray in 1980 by supporting Ronald Reagan for president. This decision was symbolic in layers. Reagan was an actor who starred in Westerns that gave American gun culture much its ideological content.
The NRA was the New Right’s vanguard over the next two decades. It mobilized voters to support topics such as gay marriage and gun control. To maintain popular militancy, they created a sense of permanent crisis. NRA ads were shrill, featuring headlines like “How Much Tape Is Too Much When He Threatens to Kill You?”
Privately, officials bragged that they “pour gasoline on the fire.”
But their words have sown firestorms. In 1995, Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed that “jack-booted Government thugs” are poised to “take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us.” Shortly afterward, the veteran NRA member Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. McVeigh believed McVeigh was being conspired against by the government to take his guns.
Charlton Heston was named president of the NRA to help them navigate the aftermath. Heston was the president. membership soaredTo 4 million, and the group helped elect George W. Bush in 2000 with a razor-thin margin. Democrats were afraid of the NRA after the election, and they remained silent about gun control for the next ten years.
Famous for his role in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Ten CommandmentsHeston seamlessly merged religious zeal with nationalist conviction. Heston was seen as an American Moses by the NRA faithful. He represented the endangered America that heartland conservatives saw in themselves; the leader guiding the remnant of the nation that remained — like ancient Israel — exiles in their own country, while clinging to the Second Amendment as sacred scripture.
Heston even described gun owners as a threat minority. “I remember when European Jews feared to admit their faith. They were forced by Nazis to wear yellow stars on their identity badges. So,” Heston asked, “what color star will they pin on gun owners’ chests?”
Under his leadership, the lobby launched an offensive legislatively. The NRA guided the passage of the 2003. the Tiahrt AmendmentThis prevents the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) from publicly identifying crime weapons and sharing evidence to law enforcement. Corporate pressure prevented the assault rifle ban from being renewed in 2005. In 2005, the industry passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act through Congress. This Act protects companies from lawsuits if crimes involve their guns.
Ultimately, the industry’s biggest victory occurred in 2008, when the Supreme Court accepted its ample reading of the Second Amendment in D.C. v. Heller. Its fingerprints were everywhere in the ruling. The case’s mastermind, Robert LevyCharles Koch of Koch brothers founded the Cato Institute as a conservative think-tank. Charles Koch hosted Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia just months before the ruling. at his personal retreat.
Scalia was already a member of an arm manufacturer’s camp. The World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, an international offshoot of the NRA awarded Scalia its 2007 World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities award. “Sport Shooting Ambassador Award” — turning him into an honorary lobbyist. His majority opinion in HellerHighly cited scholarship that the NRA funded.
During this time, lobbying was a major investment. Between 2005-April 2011, “corporate partners” contributedThe NRA received between $14.7 million and $38.9 millions. While publicly denying the nonprofit received industry funds, LaPierre informed executives that it was “geared toward your company’s corporate interests.” Beretta, Glock, Ruger, and other firms generously contributed to its coffers. CEO James Debney of Smith & Wesson explained that the NRA is “our voice.”
Children being targeted
Yet gradually, a trail of mass shootings shifted public opinion and drained the industry’s legitimacy. In 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown Connecticut became one of the deadliest in U.S. history, while gripping the community with muted symbolism: The sleepy town was the headquarters of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) — the official industry lobby. A future NRA director, Joshua Powell, recalls preparing for combat. As “the bodies… were still bleeding,” Powell admits, he and his colleagues “quickly moved into fighting mode…. The intensity and adrenaline of the fight was palpable. It was all I could focus on.”
Powell describes the immediate and growling response of Ackerman-McQueen, the NRA’s publicity firm: “We’re not giving a fucking inch.” Under its guidance, Vice President LaPierre assured the country, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The massacre was a turning-point, galvanizing a movement to control guns, breaking faith in the industry line and driving a wedge between NRA and cautious Democrats. The consequences of gun violence had already become very clear. Between Columbine in 1999, and 2021 over 240,000 studentsStudents were on campuses during shootings. In the 2017-2018 school year alone, at least 4.1 million children — and possibly up to 10 percent of the country’s student body — participated in lockdowns. Children across the country wrote wills and sent their loved ones farewells.
The Eddie Eagle program teaches children proper gun handling skills, tempering public anger following Sandy Hook. The American Academy of PediatricsIt was found ineffective. The NRA hired Lisa Monroe, an Oklahoma University education specialist, to revamp it in 2015. She found out later that it was being offered by the industry as an alternative to child accessibility laws. “If they had,” Monroe stressed, “I wouldn’t have anything to do with it.”
Founder Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action asserts that Eddie Eagle is “a propaganda tool, similar to Joe Camel in marketing cigarettes to kids.” Her critique is painfully plausible. In recent decades, gun ownership has fallenThe United States is a country that has seen its share of these changes. Companies aggressively market to children customers to ensure the industry’s social reproduction and political base, even though they claim to promote child safety.
“What market isn’t tied to juniors?” Junior Shooters stressedThe year of Sandy Hook. The magazine is sponsored by the NRA and NSSF. It features advertisements for assault rifles and targets children. One sponsor, Bushmaster Firearms, produced the AR-15 that tore apart Newtown; the title of one article was “Why I Love Bushmaster AR-15s… You Should, Too.”
Thompson/Center Arms was astonished previously debuted a tiny gunFor six-year-olds. Marlin appealed to children with a real-life “Marlin Man” (again the Joe Camel comparison beckons), while introducing a new rifle line. “These rifles are not just sized for kids,” the company boasted, “they’re completely designed for kids.”
Leading firms, such as Smith & Wesson and Beretta even offer “youth model” assault rifles, favoring plastic components that minimize recoil and flashy colors that attract children. They also promote gun culture, while making customers. Advertising gives the weapons emotional weight, which fosters the fanatical attachments that make Newtown’s shooters famous.
Children with assault rifles for children are not an exception. They reflect two main industry trends. Over the decades, both expansion and contraction have been hallmarks of firms. The militarization of the civilian market. In a country already saturated with guns, companies boost lethality to artificially stoke demand and attract new customers — including children. For military-grade weapons, companies rely on the volume of their orders to make economies. They also sell arms to law enforcement in an attempt to increase their appeal on the larger, more lucrative civilian market.
Globalizing the Second Amendment
While domestic shootings are the most common focus of media coverage, the problem of gun violence is not limited to those within the country. The industry aggressively pursues foreign clients, even if they are not children. NRA officials are under Secretary of State John Bolton led the U.S. delegationTo the UN talks that culminated into the Arms Trade Treaty (2013). Bolton was opposed to any attempt to restrict arm flows. Later, Bolton became a director of the NRA and was responsible for overseeing it. an export boomas national security adviser.
Officials from the industry even tried to enter the Russian market. In 2015, the NRA funded a trip to Russia for its directors, who illegally exploited it to pursue business deals and meet officials on the U.S. Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list.
Future presidents of the NRA Peter Brownell emphasized that he came seeking “an import or export opportunity.” Russian liaisons assured him that the trip “would DEFINITELY be profitable.” Afterward, a congressional investigation concluded that Russia manipulated the NRA to penetrate conservative circles and conduct espionage.
Yet the industry’s shadow hangs heaviest south of the border. Approximately 70 percent of gun crimesU.S. weapons are flowing in an iron torrent over Mexico’s Rio Grande. Glock and Beretta are just two of the many European firms that exploit U.S. laws. circumvent export controlsThey then inundate the region in bullets with their own weapons. Mexico’s murder rates soared after the 2004 U.S. assault weapons ban was lifted. In 2004, only one-fourth (24%) of all homicides were caused by guns. By 2019, that figure was 80%. 72 percent.
Authorities and cartels pursued an incessant arms race Mexico’s homicide rateIn seven years, 164,000 people surpassed the threshold. 2014 was a notorious year for U.S. guns. the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, who were about to commemorate the Tlatelolco Massacre — another atrocity involving U.S. arms.
The industry has not allowed reform to take place. The NRA announced a “battle” to guarantee legislators “do not use Mexico as an excuse to sacrifice our Second Amendment rights.” That fight is ongoing. Last year, Mexico sued 11 arms firmsIn federal court in Boston, they claim they knowingly fuelled the violence.
In summary, the industry has promoted violence in the Americas where six countries alone were responsible. over half the globe’s gun-related deaths2018 Yet while dismantling barriers to accumulation, the NRA’s conservative base constructs border walls for the very refugees fleeing the bloodshed.
Value in Motion
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida was victim to a savage act of violence. In 2018, a 17-year-old boy used an AR-15 to kill 17 people. But common sense had prevailed, and the country was in a boiling mood. The following month, students began to 90 percent of voting districtsProtest against violence in arms Gun control activists outspent the industryFor the first time in elections that year.
The organization was in disarray, facing bankruptcy and sex scandals as well as corruption charges. Powell admits that the “waste and dysfunction” was “staggering.” Despite the organization’s nonprofit status, directors practiced nepotism, siphoned funds and funneled contracts to friends. A former senior IRS official called its case “extraordinary” — “one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen.”
The scandalous saga reached its climax when protestors gathered at the Capitol to contest the presidential elections and reinstall Donald Trump. massive industry donations. Days before LaPierre warned about “armed government agents storming your house,” while exhorting conservatives to “STOP GUN CONFISCATION.” In response, gun rights activists invaded the Capitol, including Richard Barnett, who seized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, and William Calhoun, who declared he would sling “enough hot lead” to stack bodies “like cordwood.”
Since then, the January 6 coup as well as a seemingly endless string of mass killings have energized calls for reform. This summer, President Joe Biden signedA bill that increases background checks, mental health care, and school security. A judge ruled in favor of the bill. a lawsuit against the NRAIt can be continued if it is in violation of its non-profit status.
Yet the industry’s political base remains powerful, and the race for accumulation persists. Gun rights are not just about white nationalism or virulent antistatism. It is also about profit. From the industry’s standpoint, shattering bullets are simply value in motion. This history is in many ways a harsh commentary on capitalism’s destructive power; it is the mirror of a society in which child sacrifice is a tribute to the Second Amendment and the Second Amendment protects corporate profits. The gun debate is a way to highlight the divisions with fire and lead as the U.S. continues to polarize.
The author would like Sarah Priscilla Lee from the Learning Sciences Program at Northwestern University to thank for reviewing this article.