Why Do Americans Keep Buying Guns?
I bought my first gun when I was 12 years old. It was a Smith & Wesson K-frame revolver which I got at a tag sale off of Highway 441 in Florida for fifty bucks. This was in 1956 and since then I have probably bought and traded for at least another 300 guns. Right now, I own around 60 guns, maybe a few more, maybe a few less.
I like guns. I’ve always liked guns. And if you were to ask me why I like guns, my answer would be that I just like guns. I have liked guns ever since I sat in the movie theater near my home and watched Alan Ladd outdraw Jack Palance in the movie ‘Shane.’ Sometimes as I walked to school I would even stop and pretend that I was yanking out my revolver and winning a quick-draw contest against a bad guy right then and there.
I never actually needed any of those guns, then or now. I need a car, or I can’t get to work. I need clothes or I can’t leave my house. I need food or at some point I won’t feel very good. And I need my pills or my blood pressure and my A1C will get out of control — let’s hear it for Big Pharma!
The point is that I really need to buy certain consumer products every day. But the category of consumer products that I require in order to lead a normal life doesn’t include guns. And I’m not at all unusual in that respect.
The truth is that if we have 300 million or more personally-owned guns sitting in the basements, attics, garages, glove compartments and coat pockets of law-abiding American adults, not a single one of these weapons is needed for any tangible purpose at all.
Gun-nut Nation loves to talk about how guns represent a unique American tradition — the 2nd Amendment and all that. Know what American tradition guns really represent? The American tradition and practice of consumer product marketing, which we do better than anyone else.
Want to know what made our Industrial Revolution a real revolution? It was the fact that over the second half of the nineteenth century, we began manufacturing cheap, mass-produced consumer products that went into every American home. When was the first Sears catalog published? 1888. When was the first advertising agency founded? It was a company in Philadelphia named N. W. Ayer which started operating around the same time.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the marketing of guns for ‘self-defense’ is an advertising strategy that’s just become commonplace over the last several decades. The picture above is an ad for Iver Johnson handguns, a company that started operating in Fitchburg, MA in 1871. Where the factory was located in Fitchburg is now a Dairy Queen.
I don’t know whether the gun industry was listening to consumers when they started promoting the idea of self-defense guns or whether it was the other way around. What I do know is that for all the talk about how the recent gun-buying splurge is a reaction to the insecurities engendered by the Pandemic or the fears of unrest following the mass demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd, the fact is that even though there appears to be an increase in the number of first-time gun consumers, most of the guns purchased over the last several years ended up in the hands of consumers who already owned guns.
The NSSF says that 5 million consumers bought guns for the first time in 2020, which if this calculation is correct, means the total number of gun-owning consumers in the United States increased by roughly ten percent. Now there’s no consumer product industry that wouldn’t like to see a ten percent increase in the size of its market, but let’s not assume that every law-abiding American is rushing out to buy a first-time gun.
Using FBI-NICS checks as the proxy for determining gun sales, the total sales volume for 2020 appears to have been 65% higher than 2019. In other words, the same consumers who like to spend their money on guns keep spending their money on guns.
Why does a certain group of consumers keep buying the same product again and again? Since I’m one of those consumers, my reason is what I stated above — I happen to like guns.