Shootings Aren’t a Sign America Is ‘Broken.’
It’s Working Exactly as Intended
Ryan Busse / Guardian UK
(May 26, 2022) — After the horrific mass murders in Buffalo and Uvalde, Americans are hearing a familiar chorus emanating from the cable networks. Every host and guest seems shocked. They search for the right words.
Eventually, their message becomes almost universal: Something is horribly broken in a country that allows troubled young men to arm themselves to the teeth and kill innocent people — especially young children. Social media explodes, expressing a version of the shock that the first lady, Jill Biden, expressed after the murders in Uvalde — “Stunned. Angry. Heartbroken.”
I too am angry and heartbroken. But I am not stunned, and I don’t believe anything is broken. The truth is that Americans now live within an escalating system of radicalized gun tragedy that is working exactly as expected.
I know. For more than two decades, I worked in the highest levels of the firearms industry. I spent my career working to hold on to the principles of responsible gun ownership and fighting against the very predictable results of increasing extremism and the pursuit of profit above all else.
I was a firearms exec for years.
The industry used to adhere to self-imposed rules
— until gun makers and lobby groups like the NRA
realized fear and extremism sold more guns
I wrote my book Gunfight about the truth of what the industry has become and about my life fighting it from the inside. Today I’m a senior adviser to the gun violence prevention group founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords — not a career path I thought I’d have when I first started out in the firearms industry, but one that felt very necessary to me given what I experienced.
For the first few years of my career, which started in 1995, the industry adhered to self-imposed rules and norms — such as restricting tactical gear like that worn by the Buffalo and Uvalde shooters to the law enforcement and military sections of trade shows.
Even up until about 15 years ago, self-imposed policies like this were strictly enforced by the industry’s own trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). Industry norms prohibited displaying tactical gear, certain marketing campaigns or incendiary firearms names, for fear of what might spread throughout the country.
But as the increasing vitriol of the National Rifle Association (NRA) proved politically effective, some in the gun business realized this messaging could be adopted by the firearms industry to sell more guns. All that was required for success was a dedication to frighteningly dangerous rhetoric and increasingly powerful weaponry. Cultural norms and responsibility would have to go.
The extreme risks and likely outcomes of such an experiment seemed obvious to me and to others. I refused to join the growing tactical market and worked to weaken the NRA behind the scenes. And I wasn’t the only one.
A number of other people in the industry sounded their own alarms about the impacts of “terrorist rifles” and a nation with unlimited gun sales and insufficient responsibility. Those warnings resulted in the quick and very public loss of careers at the hands of the NRA and its growing radicalized troll army.
Everyone else got the message. Speaking up for responsibility was not to be tolerated. Unpleasantries like radicalized young men with too many guns were to be treated like diffuse pollution that could be dealt with by someone downstream.
Even when unspeakable tragedies, such as the murders at Sandy Hook, were linked directly to shockingly irresponsible marketing campaigns that promised a metaphorical “man card” to any young man who purchased an AR-15, the NSSF opted to look the other way.
For years, the NSSF worked behind the scenes to criticize and marginalize people like me who spoke up. Today the organization openly attacks anyone who speaks out in support of gun safety. But it has nothing to say about Kyle Rittenhouse or armed men menacing the Michigan capital. So far, there is silence from the NSSF and the NRA on the 10 Black Americans murdered in Buffalo and the 19 children and two teachers murdered in Uvalde.
The NSSF helped craft a new world of gun lobby extremism in which profits are all that matter. With the election of America’s first Black president, the lobby embraced conspiracy-mongering, racism and fear campaigns. Gun sales soared from less than 8 million guns in 2008 to more than 16 million in 2016.
In 2016, the firearms industry was all-in on Donald Trump and even piped his 2017 American Carnage inauguration speech throughout the industry trade show like a religious ceremony. The industry celebrated because Trump was the perfect salesman for more guns. This system was simply being pushed to its next stage.
This Friday, Trump is scheduled to speak at the annual NRA convention in Houston — less than 300 miles from Uvalde. The convention hall will be full of NSSF industry members lining up to court Trump and his frenzied fans. The system continues to work just as it was designed by the NRA and NSSF; from their point of view, nothing about it is broken.
There is a reason why troubled 18-year-olds can buy assault rifles, body armor and high-capacity magazines. There is a reason why racism, conspiracies and increasingly dangerous idolatry infect parts of our country, and federal gun legislation has stalled time and time again. It’s the gun lobby — the NRA, the NSSF and the politicians who are frightened of them.
The horrific murders of second- and third-graders are part of that system. It’s time to rebuild it. We can all be safer from gun violence if we’re willing to stand up to the gun lobby and the politicians who champion their dangerous extremism in pursuit of profits.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.