Guns in America: the business of fear

By Bernd Debusmann
July 30, 2012

Mass shootings are good for the gun business. So are dark warnings from the principal gun lobby in the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA), that President Barack Obama is leading a global conspiracy to seize an estimated 300 million guns now held by private citizens.

Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter. As they say on Wall Street, perception is reality and the fears the NRA has managed to inspire since Obama’s 2008 election have led to a boom for the American gun industry. At a time of misery for much of the rest of the American economy, growth rates for makers of firearms and ammunition have been impressive. Between 2008 and 2011, jobs in the industry jumped 30 percent.

Sales of guns and ammunition have spiked after each of the mass shootings, which have become a familiar part of American life. The latest massacre, the July 20 killing of 12 people in a crowded cinema in Colorado, prompted a 40 percent jump in sales on the day after the midnight shooting. There was an even sharper spike after last year’s shooting in Arizona that killed six and wounded a dozen others, including a member of CongressGabrielle Giffords.

Why do people rush to buy guns after such bloody incidents? Two reasons, say experts. One is to defend themselves in case they are caught in a shooting and the second, more important, because the media coverage generated by unhinged killers invariably touches the topic of gun control. Fear of future restrictions, fanned without fail by the NRA, drives people to the gun shops.

No matter what one thinks of the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, its leader for more than two decades, his fearmongering has been effective and benefitted both his organization and the gun industry. When he took over the organization in 1991, it was close to bankruptcy. Now, in the words of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the NRA’s most prominent critics, the organization is “a $200 million-plus-a-year lobbying juggernaut with much of its funding coming from gun manufacturers and merchandising.”

“More than anything, the NRA is a marketing organization, and its flagship product is fear,” Bloomberg wrote in an opinion piece on Bloomberg News.

That fear works on different levels. Gun lovers taking their cue from the NRA fear that any kind of regulation – restrictions on the sale of magazines holding 100 rounds, for example – is a step on the road to the elimination of the U.S. constitution’s Second Amendment, which enshrines the right of citizens to own and bear arms. Politicians in favor of restrictions fear electoral defeat if they run afoul of the NRA.

That’s a boon for the gun industry. Demand for firearms has risen to such levels that Ruger, one of the two biggest publicly traded U.S. gun makers, temporarily suspended taking orders earlier this year because it could not produce fast enough. At the NRA’s 2011 convention, Ruger CEO Michael Fifer said his company’s target was selling one million firearms by the time of the NRA’s 2012 convention, and it would donate a dollar a gun to the association. In fact, the company sold 1,254,000 guns and made out a matching check at the 2012 convention.

FEAR AS A MARKETING TOOL

The share prices of both Ruger and Smith & Wesson, the other big publicly traded gun company (and maker of the semi-automatic rifle used in the Aurora cinema shooting) reached records in 2012. Smaller companies thrived as well.

Which makes one wonder whether the NRA leadership actually believes in its overheated rhetoric – “the gun grabbers are coming, the gun grabbers are coming!” – or sees it as a marketing tool. Far from wading into the on-again, off-again American debate on gun control, President Obama stayed away from the subject and in fact signed into law two NRA-inspired bills – one that allows guns to be carried into national parks and one that lets people carry their guns in checked luggage on trains.

To hear LaPierre tell it, however, this is part of “a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intention to destroy the Second Amendment in our country. When he got elected, they concocted a scheme to stay away from the gun issue, lull gun owners to sleep and play us for fools in 2012.” In a speech to a Republican meeting in Florida in February, he went on to explain that once re-elected, Obama planned to erase the Second Amendment.

LaPierre set out the plan in greater detail in a 3,800-word missive on the NRA website entitled “Obama’s Secret Plan to Destroy the Second Amendment by 2016.” Some of the arguments are recycled from his 2006 book, “The Global War on your Guns: Inside the UN Plan to Destroy the Bill of Rights.”

If you follow that train of thought, that plan came to a head in July when negotiators from more than 170 countries met in New York to work out a legally binding treaty to regulate the $60 billion conventional arms industry and throttle the flow of unregulated weapons to countries under arms embargoes, and to terrorist and criminal organizations. The talks collapsed on July 27 when the U.S. delegation said more time was needed to consider the draft proposal.

That followed a letter, a day before the July 27 deadline, signed by 51 Senators including eight Democrats, to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing “grave concern about the dangers” posed by the treaty to U.S. sovereignty. The letter echoed the arguments and language of the NRA and spoke volumes about the organization’s influence in Congress.

There was no mention of what scholars say is a long-established legal principle – international treaty obligations cannot override the U.S. constitution. It includes the right to bear arms but does not fit into conspiracy theories.

PHOTO: A sticker is seen at the Rocky Mountain Guns and Ammo store in Parker, Colorado July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

22 comments

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[...] So are dark warnings from the principal gun lobby in the United States, the National …Guns in America: the business of fearReuters Blogs (blog)Views on Gun Laws Unchanged After Aurora ShootingPew Research Center for the [...]

I agree that we should ban guns as that means there will be no more gun crimes.
We have banned cocaine and there is no more cocaine in this country. Including meth, marijuana……
Drinking and driving is outlawed. I am glad I don’t see on the news of drunk driving murders anymore.
This Colorado maniac purchased 10 gallons of gasoline to be part of his bomb that was setup as a trap. That excess amount of gas should have been regulated. Who needs more than a gallon of gasoline from the pump!!! We need to ban such high amount of gasoline purchases right away.
We tell the people that guns are banned and I know those hardened criminals will understand and comply and register their weapons the same day the announcement is made. And we should proudly put signs on our windows and front lawn indicating that we are anti-gun and you may not bring guns into our homes as we don’t allow them here. The Cinemark theater where this attack happened had those signs and policies clearly posted. This one criminal must have been illiterate to have missed it. I know all criminals after seeing those signs would have known to leave their guns at home.
Sure federal buildings are well protected. But places like schools, churches and many other places where laws clearly state that guns are not allowed have never been targets of mass murders. If I was crazy and knew of places where guns are banned, that is the last place I would target knowing that my gun would cease to function as soon as I get there and wait for the police to come by after a few minutes.
Listen to people like Mayor Bloomberg. We should all become public officials and receive around the clock protection and have enough money to hire our own protection while taking guns out of only the law abiding citizens. His home address is proudly listed and people know that there are no guns there because he is against all guns.
When these public officials call for protection, the police are there 24/7. When they call 911, additional units are routed for high profile targets. I have not called myself or needed the protection, but I am sure if I called the police right now and request 24/7 protection, they will surely grant it to me as a simple taxpaying citizen. So I agree that these are the best people to lead for ban on guns from law-abiding citizens and ban ONLY for the law-abiding citizens.
Look to the rest of the world like peaceful UK with very strict gun laws. Your family is sitting peacefully at home and some thug comes in to rob you with a big knife. They know you don’t have a gun. What is there to worry about?
Take the high cap magazines away. I know those in organized crimes are too poor and too stupid to acquire the materials and knowledge to build them. I know no criminals can get a hold of them. Of course, with my years of machine shop work, I as a simple man can build those myself, but if these laws are enacted, I promise to get them erased from my memory.
Let’s assume that everyone in that theater were former SEAL members and ordinary citizens now. All armed and well trained in perfect physical health. What would have been the reduction in casualty?
Don’t just eat the propaganda. Just think for a moment and do a real research. The answer is not more gun laws if we really want to fix the problems.
There will always be evil out there. And when you cannot stand up against it, we will fall as victims of their cruel acts. Peace and freedom is not held by being naive. Peace and freedom is earned by determined people with means and will to fight for it and to protect it.

Posted by orion905 | Report as abusive

One more thing. You can tell this is a very biased post as the anti-gun groups have always used fear to gather the willfully ignorant fools like the author.

Posted by orion905 | Report as abusive

What orion95 said.

Posted by dtyra | Report as abusive

[...] Research Center shows 47% of Americans …Mass Murders, Madness, and Gun ControlHuffington PostGuns in America: the business of fearReuters Blogs (blog)Long Hot Summer: Chicago's gun economyWBEZ (blog)Reuters -Pew Research [...]

Orion95, Mr. Debusmann is not an ignorant fool, he is part of an well orchestrated ideological movement that wishes to disarm the many, so the self-proclaimed “intellectual elite” can have free play.

Posted by dtyra | Report as abusive

orion905

First, your first post does nothing but knock down straw men.

But, lets talk about the fears of the two groups:

Anti-gun: Fear of being shot by loonies with guns.
Analysis of fear: This is something that has happened many times and kills many people every year.

Pro-gun: Fear that the government is going to take away all my guns and leave me defenseless and any step toward regulating deadly firearms is part of a massive conspiracy to disarm the population.
Analysis of fear: No serious effort has ever been made in the US to take away everyone’s guns and it never will happen, but it is good for selling guns.

So yes, anti-gun groups use fear to garner support. Fear of getting shot, a fear well justified when 12,000 people a year are killed by guns.

What is the justification for your fears, that the governement is trying to take away your guns?

Posted by pizzapinochle | Report as abusive

[...] Research Center shows 47% of Americans …Mass Murders, Madness, and Gun ControlHuffington PostGuns in America: the business of fearReuters Blogs (blog)COLUMN-Guns in America – the business of fear: Bernd DebusmannReutersPew [...]

Look at the facts. The shooter in Colorado is obviously disturbed and wanted to harm innocent people. If guns were outlawed, this man would have still done what he could to cause mayhem. With the traps he placed in his residence, he could have just as easily placed bombs in the theater. People set out to do harm will find a way to do harm. He didn’t sit amongst the crowd when this started, he came in through the fire exit. Restrictions and metal detectors wouldn’t have done anything. But if law abiding moviegoers were allowed to carry firearms, there would have been far fewer people shot.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Look at the facts. The shooter in Colorado is obviously disturbed and wanted to harm innocent people. If guns were outlawed, this man would have still done what he could to cause mayhem. With the traps he placed in his residence, he could have just as easily placed bombs in the theater. People set out to do harm will find a way to do harm. He didn’t sit amongst the crowd when this started, he came in through the fire exit. Restrictions and metal detectors wouldn’t have done anything. But if law abiding moviegoers were allowed to carry firearms, there would have been far fewer people shot.

Posted by Howiroll | Report as abusive

How would you have prevented the Fort Hood shooting?
Would you disarm the military? There is no perfect answer. Evil psycopaths will find a way to hurt or kill.
But the best answer is to strictly enforce the hundreds of gun laws already on the books. For some unknowable reason, we don’t do that. You want a solution? Here it is: GROW A SET!

Posted by skyraider254 | Report as abusive

You know, you could write an equally persuasive article critiquing Gun Control Groups’ efforts. “The Gun Control Lobby – The Business of Fear”

I have been thinking, I am actually surprised we do not have more nutballs painting their hair orange and making bombs and shooting people en mass. Our culture is very violent – - what with the video games, rap music glorifying violence, animated TV shows where kids want to kill their parents (Family Guy)…With 300 million some Americans one nutball with a gun a year seems…”normal.”

Posted by Fraizr | Report as abusive

@pizzapinochle: Neat analysis. The NRA is extremely good at creating straw men and knocking them down. Pity so many people don’t see that

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

NRA is not a perfect organization.

But anti-gun movement is based on lies and scare. Add stupid people to that and you have simple ignorance driving an unknown agenda that isn’t designed to save people’s lives.

NRA is not filled with MENSA candidates nor is it right in all its tactics. But the key is that there are statistical findings that can back up the key ideas for pro-gun movement.

Anti-gun nuts said the streets will be running with blood when permit to carry is allowed……40 states later, their fear mongering lies have yet to come to fruition and we can offer proper firearms education in those states without being labeled as “gun nuts” by anti-gun fools.

Posted by orion905 | Report as abusive

I’m a proud owner of a few firearms. I don;t maintain a membership with the NRA, though. Too radical. Too in bed with the manufacturers. And that time when Charlton Hestong screamed “..from my cold dead hands!” right after the Columbine massacre, I said to myself “Wow. Wackoville.”

Posted by krimsonpage | Report as abusive

Never in my life will I set foot in the United States of America. I’m gonna stay on my side of the Atlantic, where the chance of getting shot is about 99% smaller.

Posted by Stijntsje | Report as abusive

And in not so breaking news today, millions of law abiding people who legally own guns did NOT shoot anyone. No film at 11.

Posted by texan5555 | Report as abusive

Debusmann again demonstrates his inability to understand the concerns of the citizens of the United States. It is obvious that the liberal elite, which he clearly believes he is a member, thinks that the average person is incapable of thinking for themselves and are being led around by the nose by corporate America and organizations like the NRA. According to this man, we are all ignorant red necks with our thought processes controlled by “the man”. It is insulting and, furthermore, incorrect. Why does the NRA even exist? Before ~1960, there was no need for gun owners to support a political effort to protect their 2nd Amendment guaranteed rights. Both the left and right recognized this right and understood the need to support a citizenry that was able to bear arms in defense of this country and for their own protection. But since then, elitists like Debusmann think they know better than the rest of us. We should let the government provide for us in every aspect of our existence, even to the point of protecting us from those who would do harm (including the government itself!).

Wow. How incredibly perceptive of these intellectually superior people. These same people tell us that businesses are only successful because of the government. This is purely an illusion. That’s a slap in the face to every person that has created a successful business form nothing. The government is one of the main impediments to a successful business! Likewise, the government can not protect you from individual acts of violence and certainly will not protect you from it’s own actions. Yes , the NRA is strong. Because those of us who value freedom and understand that our rights are constantly under fire support it. Do I agree with everything the NRA does – no. But the basic premise of its existence is to protect our freedoms as recognized by our government under the 2nd amendment of the US constitution. That is very important and it is not about selling fear in order to make a profit selling guns and ammunition!

Posted by AuAgExpl | Report as abusive

Very frankly, I do not understand why are you guys even debating this. The solution is so very simple, take out the guns and crime rate will drop.

There is a reason why such shooting only exist in America. Look at the stats and start to look beyond the propaganda that the NRA is brewing for your very eyes!

To orion905:
Look if that fellow goes to a movie filled with armed and fit individuals, there will still be casualty. Maybe less, maybe more. There will be a gun fight and there will still be casualty. However, if you take out every single gun in that room, casualty will drop, even to 0 maybe!
Pro-gun movement is simply full of lies and scare tactics. Now add that with stupid people who can’t see through their propaganda and you get the multi-billion dollar arms industry.

Posted by rippedshorts | Report as abusive

What many gun control proponents apparently fail to understand is that the 2nd Ammendment was written at a time when the founders had just thrown out what they considered to be an oppressive government and realized that an armed populace would be the best deterrent to ours becoming as oppressive due to the fact that they could rise up against it. At the time it was written the standard military weapon was the large calibre, smooth bore musket which was only reasonably accurate up to about 150 yards and many of the civilians had Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifles which were smaller calibre but more accurate especially at long range. These rifles can be seen as being better than the military weapons so I do not believe that saying that the civilians cannot have comparable weapons to the military is in the spirit of the 2nd Ammendment

Posted by texan5555 | Report as abusive

Boy, the comments on here only serve to underscore the points being made in Bernd Debusmann’s piece, that the NRA exerts undue influence in America. Nowhere in this piece is Debusmann advocating the removal of anyone’s guns, yet that is how most posters are addressing their comments.

Orion905 states, “Don’t just eat the propaganda. Just think for a moment and do a real research.” What propaganda? The only propaganda percolating through our culture on this topic is coming from “a $200 million-plus-a-year lobbying juggernaut with much of its funding coming from gun manufacturers and merchandising.” That’s a lot of money. Do some real research. What organization advocating a ban on gun ownership is spending anything remotely close to that amount? Can you name one organization that spends 1/200th of that amount promoting gun control?

Good propaganda does it’s work not only surreptitiously, but in a way that makes its target audience respond emotionally, usually with indignation. This is clearly evident with gun advocates and not those advocating a ban on assault rifles or background checks.

What I find most disturbing is how disingenuous the NRA message is, and yet how readily its target audience swallows that bogus message, that someone’s coming to take our guns. People should always be skeptical 1.when a message says one thing–their coming to take away your guns–but the desired response is increasing the profits for a small group of people, and 2. when politics is brought into the argument. So now Obama is coming to get your guns. What’s the real message here? Vote Republican so that small group of people who are profiting from selling guns can pay less in taxes and have no fear of any regulations that may interfere with maximum profit making. Romney has been a stronger advocate for gun control than Obama. Obama has no interest whatsoever in challenging the NRA or the gun industry. To what end would he do that? There’s little to gain and everything to lose. As Orion905 says, just think for a minute.

The NRA is the ultimate ad agency for the gun industry. Like all things in America, it’s about profits. The NRA wants people to believe that any mention of any kind of restriction on any aspect of gun ownership is a direct threat to our Constitutional 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. The 2nd Amendment is not under threat, but clearly our free speech is, our freedom to discuss certain topics without retribution is being threatened into silence. That’s where the real threat to our freedom is coming from.

Obviously there is a direct correlation between gun ownership and gun violence, and the American people, along with their representatives, should be free to discuss pragmatic solutions that don’t include taking people’s guns without fear of retribution. Remember, guns don’t kill; people with guns do.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

Second Amendment – You may not infringe on my rights :) I am free – that’s what makes this our country great. Never forget. The American Revolution would never
have happened with gun control. When you remove the people’s right to bear arms, you create slaves.
See below:
In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
——————————
In 1911,
Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5
million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were
rounded up and exterminated.
——————————
Germany
established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, a
total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to
defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated.
——————————
China
established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20
million political dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
——————————
Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to
1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves,
were rounded up and exterminated.
——————————
Uganda
established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated
——————————
Cambodia
established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, one
million educated people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
—————————–
Defenseless
people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century
because of gun control: 56 million.
—————————–

Posted by soldier777 | Report as abusive

soldier777: What’s your point? No one is suggesting that we roundup people’s guns, not in this op-ed and not in any of the comments, so why the meaningless tirade? That’s like posting a list of instances where legal use of heroin has led to many disasters to an op-ed merely discussing medicinal use of marijuana. What’s the point? The implication is that any discussion about laws pertaining to firearms is code for a complete ban, which is propagandized nonsense.

Guns, like cars, are dangerous. You have to be of a certain age to drive a car. You have to pass a test to get a drivers license. You have to register your car and have insurance. No one is saying that guns should be banned. Let me repeat that. No one is saying that guns should be banned. But as a responsible society we need to have a conversation about what laws we want that apply to gun ownership. Because like it or not, the US does have a problem with gun violence and people have the right to expect their elected representatives to find ways of diminishing that violence. As I posted earlier, guns don’t kill people–this is true–but people with guns do, and the numbers are disturbingly high.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

I went to a class so I could get my concealed weapons permit. I own a rifle and three handguns and want the option to conceal a handgun if I feel it is necessary. During the class a gentlemen kept giving the instructor different situations and wanted to know if he could shoot someone in them. The answer 95% of the time was “no, not legally.” A person like that should not be allowed to have guns. There should be some type of screening. I used to live in California, the anti-gun state, and completely hated the 10 day waiting period for a pistol; I’m starting to reverse my hatred of that law. I used to be an NRA members because of the benefits they give to gun owners but recently I haven’t reapplied because they have become too crazy. When it comes to politics, I’m not a one issue person and the NRA is so I have a conflict of interest there. I won’t say that no one is trying to take away your guns….ahem…San Fransisco….but the majority simply want stricter gun control. So you have to wait a few days and pass a test to get your gun….big deal. After that it’s yours for good.

Posted by agej | Report as abusive

It belittles me to see these pitty and sad comments, You people are being scared by the media. If your against gun control then shame on you, leave this county, The 2nd amendment is there FOR YOU!you need to be able to defend you self from a tyrannical government(wich might be america very very soon) Much worse things happen in the world than a few shootings in america, yes they are tragic but tragedies happen. none of those shootings probably affected ANY of you people.(maybe some of you)
just turn off the news and go outside and live.

Posted by constitutionn | Report as abusive

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