Sandy Hook Promise Report Shows How Firearm Industry Targets Kids

Published: October 27, 2023

Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit group founded by family members of Sandy Hook victims, launched a new advocacy campaign it says exposes how firearm marketing is reaching youth with “R-rated” content. To illustrate marketing practices it calls deceptive, the organization released a new report, UnTargeting Kids: Protecting Children from Harmful Firearm Marketing.

Drawing from documents uncovered from the lawsuit against Remington Arms brought by some of the families impacted by the Sandy Hook tragedy, as well as insights from research across marketing, psychology and gun violence, UnTargeting Kids reveals the concerning trend of gun marketers sharing R-rated, hyper-aggressive, and hyper-sexualized content directly with children under 18 to promote the illegal and violent use of military-style weapons, the press release says.

“It is time for us to acknowledge that the way firearms are marketed to youth is contributing to the prevalence of mass violence in America,” said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise, and mother of Dylan, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “Our kids are being served violent R-rated content on guns – across platforms, from ads to influencers. We know that all parents share in our concern of protecting children from anything that might harm them, and that many parents are not aware of the ads their children are seeing. We helped bring the lawsuit against Remington because we wanted to draw attention to these practices and change the way firearms are marketed.”

In launching the campaign, Sandy Hook Promise says they plan to educate and engage parents on how they can help end some of the most egregious examples of this kind of marketing.

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“Our kids are too young to drive, vote, drink alcohol, serve in the military, or legally purchase a firearm under federal law. And yet, they are receiving deceptive and aggressive messages about firearms through marketing loopholes, social media influencers, and video games,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund, and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “All parents – gun owners and non-gun owners alike – can agree that kids should not be the targets of firearm marketing, especially when using content designed for adults that should only be viewed by adults. The responsibility falls on us all – parents, legislators, business leaders, and marketing professionals alike – to better understand the clear connection between gun marketing and gun violence, so that we can move forward and create sensible protections.”

Over the last decade, Sandy Hook Promise says the firearm industry has intentionally targeted youth with emotionally aggressive militarized marketing – intentionally naming “youth” as a key target audience in marketing briefs, discussing a “window of opportunity” to build consumer loyalty before they turn 16. The nonprofit says when gun marketing transitioned from selling firearms for traditional hunting and sporting purposes to more violent, military-style marketing to kids, the U.S. started to experience a significant spike in firearm deaths, noting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s finding that firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens.

The UnTargeting Kids report discusses how gun manufacturers market their products to youth under age, and why kids are uniquely susceptible to the marketing messages.

Some key highlights include:

  • From hunting and sporting to military-grade combat: UnTargeting Kids examines the specific marketing messages and tactics gun manufacturers are using across print, social media, TV and movies, and video games to reach children, including messages about how powerful someone can feel with a military-grade weapon, or how sexually attractive someone can be, as well as ads featuring boy and girl skulls with pacifiers, reminiscent of the infamous Joe Camel and Marlboro Man cartoons.
  • Youth susceptibility: Young people are biologically more vulnerable to advertising and more likely to engage in impulsive and risky behavior. Marketers prey on this knowledge, says the nonprofit, but now with the kinds of messages that are particularly dangerous for at-risk youth.
  • The influencer loophole: While social media channels ban the direct sales of firearms on their platforms, they allow influencers paid by the firearm industry to share posts promoting guns – a loophole Sandy Hook Promise says makes the direct bans of marketing firearms on social media all but useless.

How To Protect Children From Harmful Firearm Marketing

Sandy Hook Promise says Americans can advocate to protect children from firearm marketing by:

  • Pushing for more research: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) need to begin researching how firearm marketing is linked to our nation’s gun violence epidemic.
  • Demanding that the firearm industry take action: The firearm industry has the ability to correct-course, self-regulate, and stop marketing to kids. Sandy Hook Promise has introduced Responsible Marketing Guidelines that gun manufacturers and media platforms hosting marketing can and should uphold.
  • Pushing for stronger regulatory reform: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF) has the responsibility to regulate the firearm industry’s deceptive marketing practices.
  • Asking Congress to take action: If self-policing and regulatory action fail, Congress needs to pass legislation that prohibits marketing of firearms to children and adolescents under the legal age of purchasing a firearm.
  • Speaking out: Sign the petition urging the firearm industry and social media industry to end the use of harmful marketing practices toward underage consumers.

Download the full report here.

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