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NRA Outrageously Pushes Assault Rifles on Young Teens and Grade Schoolers

There are scary consequences to thinking of kids as a ripe gun market.

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“There is no federal regulatory agency that has firearms under its jurisdiction,” said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which was created in 1973 but was barred from overseeing gun makers three years later. As the Wall Street Journal wryly noted in 1993, when Congress debated the last assault weapons ban, the federal government can “order the recall of toy guns, just not the real thing.”

In 2007, Congress went even further and gave gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits arising from gun injuries and deaths. The gun makers had been sued by pro-gun control groups, and lawmakers sympathetic to the NRA responded by granting immunity. It was soon after this time, said Burbick, who spent years in NRA circles researching her book on gun culture, that assault weapons became part of the youth trainings run by NRA-certified instructors.

If you parse the research on the industry-supported National Shooting Sports Foundation Web site, you will find surveys of “modern sporting rifle (MSR) owners” stating that most adults did not learn about guns using military-style assault rifles. “Ninety-nine percent of all MSR owners owned some type of firearm prior to their first MSR purchase,” a press release said. “Nine out of 10 owned a handgun prior to acquiring their first MSR, and 34 percent of those under age 35 owned a paintball gun before owning their MSR.”

But across America today, semiautomatic AR-15 rifles are routinely being put into 10-year-olds' hands in introductory courses, such as this “junior safety” class south of San Francisco. The online pitch allows even younger “exceptions to the 10-year-old cutoff depend[ing] on the level of maturity of the individual child.” With this new status quo, it’s not surprising that a gun-friendly state senator in Missouri this week introduced a bill requiring that all first-graders take an NRA-certified gun safety class.

The leadership in the gun world knows that they have to find a new generation of gun users and buyers. Their problem and answer is candidly discussed in NSSF’s research. A 2012 “Peer Influence on Youth” report describes polls and focus groups with youths ages 8 to 17, finding most kids are wary of guns. Sixty-five percent said that “they did not like killing animals (or the idea),” and 44 percent had “a negative opinion” of target shooting. NSSF’s solution was what any parent can tell you—find kids who like guns to bring their friends. “Youth hunters and shooters are the key,” their executive summary concluded.        

As has often been the case with much gun-related marketing or lobbying, preying on fear has been a key theme in the industry’s sales pitch.

“Parents: would you rather your child find a gun, and try to figure out how to use it with their friend, or have a professional teach them the proper respect for firearms, and safety procedures?” reads the Junior Safety page for “The focus of this effort is to promote a healthy respect for firearms and develop superior safety and marksmanship skills in the youth of our area.”

What seems to be lost in this latest gun marketing strategy is whether young adults—and increasingly older children—have any capacity to understand the consequences of using the guns that are being put in their hands.

Jess P. Shatkin, New York University’s director of undergraduate studies in child and adolescent mental health, recently told the New York Times that “young people are naturally impulsive” and “their brains are engineered to take risks.” He said that there were many way to teach responsibilty that did not involve introducing kids to guns.