Between the multiple editorials calling for stricter gun laws and the denunciations of the NRA by its reporters, it's safe to say the urban liberals at the New York Times lack a cultural affinity for guns. Using the Sandy Hook massacre as an excuse, the paper treats as vital and disturbing Sunday front-page news something that's been going on for decades: The gun industry encouraging youth to engage in recreational shooting, hunting, and firearms training.
The 2,600-word investigation, "Selling a New Generation on Guns – Industry Recruits Children, Using Contests, Games and Semiautomatics,"is by Mike McIntire, previously known for trying to get the feds to probe Republican fundraising during the last presidential campaign.
The paper promised: "This is the first in a series of articles that will examine the gun industry's influence and the wide availability of firearms in America." The front page is dominated by what's probably meant to be the troublesome image of an Army marksmanship instructor giving tips to a junior shooter.
Threatened by long-term declining participation in shooting sports, the firearms industry has poured millions of dollars into a broad campaign to ensure its future by getting guns into the hands of more, and younger, children.
The industry’s strategies include giving firearms, ammunition and cash to youth groups; weakening state restrictions on hunting by young children; marketing an affordable military-style rifle for “junior shooters” and sponsoring semiautomatic-handgun competitions for youths; and developing a target-shooting video game that promotes brand-name weapons, with links to the Web sites of their makers.
The pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-supported magazine that seeks to get children involved in the recreational use of firearms, once featured a smiling 15-year-old girl clutching a semiautomatic rifle. At the end of an accompanying article that extolled target shooting with a Bushmaster AR-15 -- an advertisement elsewhere in the magazine directed readers to a coupon for buying one -- the author encouraged youngsters to share the article with a parent.
“Who knows?” it said. “Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!”
After mentioning the national debate "on the availability of guns," mental illness, and violent video games:
Little attention has been paid, though, to the industry’s youth-marketing initiatives. They stir passionate views, with proponents arguing that introducing children to guns can provide a safe and healthy pastime, and critics countering that it fosters a corrosive gun culture and is potentially dangerous.
The N.R.A. has for decades given grants for youth shooting programs, mostly to Boy Scout councils and 4-H groups, which traditionally involved single-shot rimfire rifles, BB guns and archery. Its $21 million in total grants in 2010 was nearly double what it gave out five years earlier.
It's no surprise that McIntire found some child psychiatrists in New York willing to say kids shouldn't be exposed to guns.
Still, some experts in child psychiatry say that encouraging youthful exposure to guns, even in a structured setting with an emphasis on safety, is asking for trouble. Dr. Jess P. Shatkin, the director of undergraduate studies in child and adolescent mental health at New York University, said that young people are naturally impulsive and that their brains “are engineered to take risks,” making them ill suited for handling guns.
Junior Shooters’ editor, Andy Fink, acknowledged in an editorial that some of his magazine’s content stirred controversy.
“I have heard people say, even shooters that participate in some of the shotgun shooting sports, such things as, ‘Why do you need a semiautomatic gun for hunting?’ ” he wrote. But if the industry is to survive, he said, gun enthusiasts must embrace all youth shooting activities, including ones “using semiautomatic firearms with magazines holding 30-100 rounds.”
Military-style firearms are prevalent in a target-shooting video game and mobile app called Point of Impact, which was sponsored by the shooting sports foundation and Guns & Ammo magazine. The game -- rated for ages 9 and up in the iTunes store -- allows players to shoot brand-name AR-15 rifles and semiautomatic handguns at inanimate targets, and it provides links to gun makers’ Web sites as well as to the foundation’s “First Shots” program, intended to recruit new shooters.
Upon the game’s release in January 2011, foundation executives said in a news release that it was one of the industry’s “most unique marketing tools directed at a younger audience.” Mr. Sanetti of the shooting sports foundation said sponsorship of the game was an experiment intended to deliver safety tips to players, while potentially generating interest in real-life sports.
The confluence of high-powered weaponry and youth shooting programs does not sit well even with some proponents of those programs. Stephan Carlson, a University of Minnesota environmental science professor whose research on the positive effects of learning hunting and outdoor skills in 4-H classes has been cited by the gun industry, said he “wouldn’t necessarily go along” with introducing children to more powerful firearms that added nothing useful to their experience.
In the same edition, reporter Jess Bidgood demonstrated concerned about a raffle with guns as prizes: "New Hampshire Police Chiefs Hold a 31-Gun Raffle for a Training Program," and quoted some hysterical liberals to make his point.
When the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police was looking to raise money for an annual cadet training program, it sold raffle tickets for $30 apiece. The drawing was scheduled for May, but by Jan. 12 all 1,000 tickets had been sold.
The prize: 31 guns, with a new winner drawn each day of the month.
The fund-raiser, sponsored by the association in partnership with two New Hampshire gun makers, Sig Sauer and Sturm, Ruger & Company, has prompted a chorus of protests from lawmakers and gun-control advocates questioning why the police are giving away guns, even in the name of a good cause.
Some in law enforcement have also raised questions. When Chief Nicholas J. Giaccone Jr. of Hanover pulled up information about the raffle on the Internet, he said, he was flabbergasted.
“I looked at the first weapon and Googled that one,” said Chief Giaccone, who recalled using an expletive when he pulled up information about the Ruger SR-556C, a semiautomatic weapon. “It’s an assault rifle.”
In a letter to the editor of The Eagle-Tribune, which covers southern New Hampshire, Richard J. O’Shaughnessy of Salem wrote, “People who should know better are adding to the glorification of the gun culture in this state.”
And referring to the shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, State Representative Sharon L. Nordgren, a Hanover Democrat, said, “They’re just the same kind that were used in Newtown.”