- Lee Fanginvestigative journalist at The Intercept covering the intersection of money and politics. His recent article is “Even as a Student Movement Rises, Gun Manufacturers Are Targeting Young People.”
In Parkland, Florida, students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Sunday afternoon for the first time inside their school since February 14, when a 19-year-old former student named Nikolas Cruz walked into the school and opened fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, killing 17 people. This comes as lawmakers return to Capitol Hill today after a one-week vacation. Congress is facing massive pressure to pass gun control measures amid the rise of an unprecedented youth movement, led by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who survived the mass shooting. President Trump has reiterated his calls to arm teachers with concealed weapons. For more, we speak with The Intercept’s investigative reporter Lee Fang, whose recent piece is entitled “Even as a Student Movement Rises, Gun Manufacturers Are Targeting Young People.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Parkland, Florida, students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Sunday afternoon. It was their first time inside their school since February 14, when a 19-year-old former student, Nikolas Cruz, walked into the school and opened fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, killing 17 people. The students’ return is part of what school officials are calling a phased reopening of the school.
This comes as lawmakers return to Capitol Hill today after a vacation. Congress is facing massive pressure to pass gun control measures amidst the rise of an unprecedented youth movement, led by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who survived the mass shooting.
Meanwhile, President Trump has reiterated his calls to arm teachers with concealed weapons. This is Trump speaking at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, on Friday.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The beauty is, it’s concealed. Nobody would ever see it, unless they needed it. It’s concealed! So this crazy man who walked in wouldn’t even know who it is that has it. That’s good. That’s not bad, that’s good. And a teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened. They love their students. They love those students, folks. Remember that.
AMY GOODMAN: According to the Gun Violence Archive, at least 69 kids under the age of 18 have been shot, and 26 of them were killed, since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School less than two weeks ago.
Well, to speak more about firearms, gun manufacturers and the unprecedented youth movement for gun control, we’re joined now by The Intercept’s investigative reporter Lee Fang, his new piece headlined “Even as a Student Movement Rises, Gun Manufacturers Are Targeting Young People.”
Lee, welcome back to Democracy Now! How are gun manufacturers targeting young people?
LEE FANG: Hi, Amy. Thanks for having me.
You know, we took a look at investor reports from gun manufacturers and other gun industry companies, and there’s a number of reasons why, but gun executives say they’re making a new push to target younger generations, teenagers, millennials, mainly because gun sales have been plummeting over the last year. That’s partially because, with a Republican president and Republicans in power in Congress, there has been little fear of gun control. And what the gun industry has done historically is that they’ve used the potential for gun control to spur panic buying, often using third parties like the NRA to kind of whip up hysteria. And without that kind of fear of gun control, there’s been less gun sales, so they’re attempting to grow their market.
Also, there’s new analysis from the gun industry showing that young people are not buying guns like older generations for hunting. They’re mostly kind of emulating video game culture. You know, they’re going to gun stores, buying targets of vampires and zombies, and going to the gun range and buying really sophisticated weapons, lots of ammunition. This is really, as one gun industry executive said, the Xbox generation that they’re trying to target. So, even as there’s a new youth-led student movement calling for gun control, this is coming at a time when the gun industry is hoping to grow their market share by selling more guns to young people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lee, could you also talk about the Koch brothers and guns and the network that the Koch brothers have built up to fund campaigns, both advocacy campaigns and political campaigns?
LEE FANG: Well, you know, the interesting thing here with the Koch brothers and guns is that I don’t believe that the Koch brothers have a strong interest in gun control or no gun control. But they do understand that this is an issue that whips up the conservative base, that Republican voters are very likely to vote on gun issues. So, you know, historically, we’ve seen the Koch brothers use their undisclosed money organizations to fund the NRA. That’s because the NRA will go out and engage in election efforts to activate Republican base voters to get them to the polls. So, you know, when you see television advertisements from the NRA, that money does come from NRA members, from gun companies, but it also can come from groups like the Koch brothers, that are hoping to use them as kind of an identity group to activate their base voters.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk a little about American Outdoor Brands? It used to be known as Smith & Wesson, right?
LEE FANG: That’s right. This is a company that sells a number of different rifles, formally known as Smith & Wesson. They manufactured the AR-15 that was used in the Parkland massacre. And this is a company that has donated millions of dollars to the NRA. They’ve engaged in kind of marketing practices with the NRA, saying that, you know, if you buy a certain number of weapons, if you buy guns from us, a portion of the sales will go to the NRA. They’ve gone out and provided big checks to the NRA, as well, kind of celebrating their partnership. And it’s a major company that sells weapons in retail stores all around the country.
AMY GOODMAN: And tell us about James Debney, the CEO of American Outdoor, talking further.
LEE FANG: Right. James Debney has been the longtime chief executive. And as he kind of explained in investor presentations throughout the year last year, he talked about the need to grow their market share among young people, that the company is doing more marketing towards younger generations and targeting millennials. Again, if you look at just the stock price of the major gun companies, of American Outdoor Brands, but also Sturm Ruger, Vista Outdoor—these are the largest gun and ammunition companies—they’ve really tanked over the last. So these companies are hurting. They’re hoping to bring in new consumers, and they’re noticing that young people are very particular types of consumers. They’re buying guns to try to emulate first-person shooters. And the gun companies are very conscious of this and trying to market their weapons to them.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what do you make of the decision by some of the major corporations in America now to sort of cut their ties with the NRA, get rid of credit cards, NRA credit cards, by some of the financial Institutions? What’s your sense of what that represents?
LEE FANG: You know, I think it’s an interesting development. But the NRA is organized through multiple 501(c) tax entities. We don’t really understand their financials, because they don’t disclose their donors. How much of a hit this constitutes, we don’t know. It’s certainly not a positive development for the NRA to see so many major corporations, from airlines to car rental companies, cutting their financial ties with the group. But at the same time, you know, the NRA is a big-money organization. They can fundraise, not just from their members, but from gun companies and other Republican donors. I think it’s too early to be seen what this financial impact is. I think the NRA is going to spend a lot of money this year, especially if states or Congress picks up gun control. They will use those political developments to kind of activate their base and likely receive even more donations.
AMY GOODMAN: Lee, as you write about the efforts by gun manufacturers to market to young people, through magazines like Junior Shooters, we’re showing some of the magazine—the covers of the magazine, for our viewers, which show young people holding rifles and handguns, with cover lines like “Glocks Are for Girls” and “Meet Spud: Fast Draw at Age 11.” Other companies, including gun manufacturer Hogue, Inc., sell things like green glow-in-the-dark handguns and shotguns and accessories, marketed to kids so they can, quote, “hunt zombies in style,” what you referred to earlier. Explain the whole push to go to younger and younger people.
LEE FANG: Right. And this is not something that’s particularly new. The gun companies have been doing this for a while. We’re just seeing kind of an increased effort. But, you know, just like any other major consumer industry, the gun company knows that they will have more loyal and more active consumers if they target people who are very young, to kind of lock them in as buyers who will repeatedly go out and buy weapons and accessories and ammunition.
So we see these marketing efforts targeted explicitly to children, you know, with guns that kind of look like they’re from a video game, or they’re pink and very friendly-looking weapons. There’s been partnerships even with video game companies. Electronic Arts, several years ago, had a partnership with several gun companies, where, you know, for a first-person shooter, players could play the game and then go be directly connected to a marketplace where they could buy weapons from the game directly from the manufacturers. So there’s a multitude of marketing efforts that are geared towards young people. And, you know, I think if Congress is looking towards enacting gun control, the marketing efforts might be a part of that larger national conversation.