And how do we know it's the same subset every time? Because the numbers are too contradictory any other way. After a string of high profile and extremely shocking killings in 2013, it started to look like some real action was about to take place in the arena of gun safety. That this didn't happen is a matter of national shame, but the panic buying set in, making 2013 a banner year for firearms sales.
So, did everyone run out and buy a lot of guns and ammunition? Actually, no. Hardly anyone did. A study launched by the General Social Survey showed that gun ownership was actually at a 40-year low. Logic dictates that these are the same panicky grandmas out buying guns in a Pavlovian response to perceived danger -- danger that the guns would become illegal, danger that some other unhinged shooter would attack them, or both. And the gun-buying was in no way rational. If you're extremely skilled, you might be able to use two firearms at once, but record sales after record sales, combined with the number of gun-owning households in free fall, suggests these people have a lot more guns than two, which means a lot more guns than they can use at any given time.
So the "safety" conferred by gun ownership starts to look a lot more talismanic than utilitarian. In other words, the "guns keep you safe" argument basically becomes superstition.
And, of course, the gun industry is looking to go back to the well yet again, using their favorite marketing firm -- the gun lobby.
ThinkProgress: On Thursday, Businessweek’s Paul Barrett declared it the “the year of the woman,” at the 2014 Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade show, as the industry turns its attention on marketing to women. Reporting from the annual gun show, Feldman told Barrett that gun retailers look forward to reaping profits from “fear-buying” ahead of the 2016 presidential election:
The mood is upbeat, but the crazed buying frenzy of last year is over. Demand for ammunition is still unbelievably strong, but the gun makers know it’s time to market and sell product, not simply write orders that can’t possibly be filled. The next ramp-up in sales may not occur until the 2016 presidential campaign gets going in earnest. The more likely a Hillary Clinton victory looks, the more advance ‘fear buying’ will recur. While most may vote Republican, manufacturers and retailers secretly hope for a repeat of the ‘Obama surge’ that has boosted sales since 2009.
The gun lobby’s use of paranoid theories to boost gun sales has been a common tactic during the Obama administration. In both 2008 and 2012, the National Rifle Association told its members that Obama secretly planned to confiscate firearms, despite Obama’s conspicuous silence on the issue of gun violence throughout the election.
So they'll fire up the old "gun-grabber" myth machine and watch the chumps flock to by more guns than they can possibly use. At this point, it pays to consider those two trend lines -- gun ownership declining while gun purchases increase. There's a certain distillation going on here. All those guns are in fewer and fewer people's hands, meaning that ever-shrinking group of pigeons is responsible for an ever-growing number of firearms purchases. And that in turn at least suggests that many of the remaining gun purchasers probably don't have it all on the ball. After all, you don't amass more weapons than you could possibly use -- and do it in the name of safety -- if things are running like clockwork upstairs.
So what the firearms industry and gun lobby are doing is basically the same as a vodka company launching a marketing campaign aimed straight at alcoholics. There's a reason why distilleries don't do that, despite the fact that it would be tremendously profitable -- it's irresponsible to the point of soullessness. And this is actually worse, because a vodka company can't use a alcohol-fueled car wreck as an opportunity to sell booze. But gun companies can use gun massacres as an opportunity to sell guns -- and they do. Over and over and over again, to the same group of paranoid gun-aholics.
In terms of pure, raw evil, the gun industry makes the tobacco industry look like Little Bo Peep. Yes, cigarette companies sell a product they know kills people. And yes, they lied in denying the danger of their product for decades. But no tobacco exec ever launched a "cigarettes cure cancer" campaign, turning the deaths caused by their product into a reason to buy it.
That's basically what the firearms industry is doing. An ouroboros campaign where you need guns to protect yourself from all the guns and the more guns you have, the better off you are, because the number of guns out there keeps growing. A big magical circle, where you buy the cause to protect yourself from the effect.
Guns cure guns. So buy a handful today.
[photo by Gage Skidmore]