The New York Times sent Tiffany Hsu, “a media reporter for the business desk, focusing on advertising and marketing,” to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas in January. She recently filed a story, “Gunmakers Battle ‘Trump Slump’ With a Softer Sales Pitch,” about which I have just a couple of brief observations.
First, Hsu focuses on how the “firearms industry is moving beyond macho marketing, testing a more inclusive strategy to counter sagging sales.” She offers some impressionistic observations based on interviews with people at the show. Impressionistic observations about advertising are good as far as they go, but they don’t go very far.
For example, there is a strong belief that gun culture has become more militarized in recent years, but my analysis of advertising in The American Rifleman over 100 years shows that association with the military has long been used to sell guns. (I thought I had posted about this previously, but didn’t so will follow-up on it a.s.a.p.)
The same may be true of the alleged “macho” marketing of guns. With an honors student right now, I am analyzing the portrayal of gender in advertising in The American Rifleman over the past 100 years. Preliminary data analysis reveals a complex pattern that goes well beyond “men strong, women weak.”
My second comment concerns Hsu’s use of gun ownership statistics to downplay the importance of guns, gun owners, and gun culture. Even if we take the household gun ownership figure she cites from the Gallup Poll at face value — which we absolutely should not because gun ownership statistics underestimate actual gun ownership — a significant proportion of households own guns.
At 40%, we are talking 51.4 MILLION households in the US with guns. So, the “glass” of gun ownership may be more than half empty, but it is a giant glass and there is still a tremendous amount in there.
My own estimate is (conservatively) that 44% to 50% of households in the US own guns, so 56.6 million to 64.3 million households. In other words, A LOT.
Hsu also emphasizes the LOWEST percentage of households report having guns IN THE LAST 15 YEARS. You can just feel her wanting to show how guns are waning in importance.
But what the data from Gallup show is considerable fluctuation in reported gun ownership from year to year. Are we to believe that actual rates of household gun ownership fluctuate that much from year to year? Absolutely not.
For one, you have this thing called the margin of error due to sampling. Gallup does not show the margin of error in this table, but it is probably 4%. So, based on probability theory, we are 95% confident that the point estimate is =/-4% of the actual value in the population. If that were shown in this chart, much of the fluctuation would disappear and we would see less dramatic change.
Secondly, you have the reality of “false negatives” in self-reports of household gun ownership. People who do have guns in their households but tell the surveyor they do not. Notice the dramatic decline in reported gun ownership from 1968 (when the Gun Control Act was passed) to 1983, rebounding during the Reagan-Bush years, then declining again from 1994 (Assault Weapons Ban enacted) to 1999 when the Clinton administration was again strongly regulating guns.
I definitely think there are some interesting observations in this story, but I had to work through a lot of the usual nonsense to get to them.