Ever since Sandy Hook, the gun industry has decided that safety is its middle name. And chief among the proponents of this new strategy is the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has taken upon itself the mission of pushing gun safety messages to kids who aren’t yet old enough to own or purchase guns, but it’s never too early to start cultivating the next generation of consumers. You’ll pardon me for sounding just a tad sarcastic in this commentary, but this new-found concern about safety issues is interesting, given the fact that gun design hasn’t really changed in the last 125 years. In other words, guns are as lethal and dangerous now as when the invention of smokeless-powder cartridges in the 1880s allowed gun makers to design small arms that could fire multiple rounds without having to be reloaded after every shot.
But what’s interesting about the new attention to safety being paid by the gun industry is that the notion that guns might be potentially dangerous no matter how they are used is a concept that is remarkably absent from the NSSF’s safety campaign, even though the campaign’s name, Project Childsafe, does beg the question of what exactly are we trying to keep the children safe from?
To the credit of the gun manufacturers, you may have to read the fine print, but they don’t beat around the bush when it comes to telling a gun owner the truth about the product he just bought. For example, the instructional manual issued by Smith & Wesson for its old warhorse, the Model 10, K-frame revolver, states that “this firearm is classified as a dangerous weapon.” The manual that accompanies Ruger’s Mini-14 rifle is even more explicit, stating in big, bold red letters – FIREARMS ARE DANGEREOUS WEAPONS – a warning that has not deterred me from owning three of them.
The risk posed by a gun, however, seems to be lost on the folks who produce safety videos for the NSSF. The most recent is a bouncy, joyful message from a veteran, competitive shooter, hunter and mom named Julie Golob, whose family shares a love of the heritage, outdoors and the shooting sports; in other words, all the right credentials to be considered an expert on how to communicate with children on any subject, let alone safety and guns. The video goes on to showcase a few cutesy testimonials from what is now the standard racial and gender inclusive group of kids, who relate how their parents did or didn’t talk to them about guns. At which point Julie reappears and chants the usual refrain borrowed from the NRA’s phony safety program, Eddie Eagle, about not touching the gun – leaving the area – telling an adult, which is then followed by a new lyric for the older kids involving telling them never to touch a gun unless being supervised by an adult, never point a gun at anyone and always assume that every gun is loaded.
Oh, by the way, Julie doesn’t forget to mention that guns should be locked or locked away. As she puts it, parents have to set a “talk the talk and walk the walk” example. The video runs 5 minutes, 37 seconds, and the entire comment about safe storage, which is the only way to keep guns away from kids no matter how many times you tell them not to touch a firearm, consumes a total of 8 seconds. In other words, the only valid statement about gun safety in this entire message takes up 2% of the message.
As I said at the beginning of this commentary, you’ll have to excuse me from sounding a bit sarcastic. But when the organization which represents the gun industry in every legislative and public discussion about gun safety can produce a public service announcement that is, to put it bluntly, an exercise in cheap hucksterism, then when it comes to safety the gun industry is inviting itself not to be taken very seriously.