Category Archives: Selling Guns

“Pork Bullets” and Racially Targeted Ammo

slide one-uniqueness-001-980x280image via Jihawg Ammo

One particularly ignorant ammunitions maker in Idaho released a line of pork-infused ammunition this week, claiming that the ammo would “strike fear into the hearts” of radical Muslims. From Jihawg Ammo’s website:

A natural deterrent that prevents violence just by owning it but will strike fear into the hearts of those bent upon hate, violence and murder. Jihawg Ammo is certified “Haraam” or unclean. According to the belief system of the radical Islamist becoming “unclean” during Jihad will prevent their attaining entrance into heaven. Jihawg Ammo is a natural deterrent to radical and suicidal acts of violence.

First off, the pork-infused paint is supposed to… what? Make Muslims not want to get shot? Does anyone want to get shot? Regardless of the kind of meat (or lack of meat) that the bullets were marinated in?

Second, I’m pretty sure that they made up the thing about how pork bullets would send a Muslim to hell. As HuffPo’s Senior Religion Editor, Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, said in a recent video segment:

“There’s no Muslim or any scholar who would say that this would be effective in sending a Muslim to hell. …This is like some concoction in some nut job in Idaho’s ‘ooo. Let’s do this.'”

I find this ammunition disturbing. Not only because it reveals the profound ignorance of its creators but also because of the way it is culturally pointed. These bullets are a way to dehumanize the individuals they are meant to kill — like needing to use silver bullets for werewolves. Creating this “special” ammunition is like saying that Muslims are a different kind of being altogether, requiring different ammunition.

When I attended the 2012 SHOT Show, I was struck by the sheer amount of firearms, ammo, and accessories geared toward fighting zombies. The Jihawg ammo reminds me of those ridiculous zombie guns except that the fantasy and fear created by this product reinforces racism rather than combats it. Zombie bullets neutralize some of my negative associations with firearms by undermining the implication that the guns would be used to kill people. There’s a sense of play and moral intuition at work in Zombie gun products.
Pork bullets, however, double down on the idea that firearms are objects of terror. Jihawg states this outright when they say that just knowing that these bullets exist is supposed to create a “peaceful deterrence” from “Jihadists.”
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image via Jihawg Ammo
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Style over Substance: Re-Designing AR-15s To Undermine Gun Control Bill

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Above: AR-15 rifle with a telescoping stock and pistol grip. This gun is an “assault rifle.”

compliant ar15AR-15 with a compliant stock and no pistol grip. This gun is not an “assault rifle.”
(Photo by Cindy Schultz / Times Union) via Times Union

Oh, the futility of legislating gun styling! The NY SAFE Act signed into law by Governor Cuomo was created to limit the sale and ownership of assault weapons, primarily those based on the AK-47 or AR-15 design. However, the bill defines assault weapons not on their lethality but on the largely superficial aspects of military weapons such as bayonet mounts or a pistol grip on the stock. It’s like outlawing guns that are grey.

Gun makers are just going to change how they look and sell the same firearm for more money because it can “pass the ban.” As Rick Karlin in the Times Union so aptly observed:

The modifications aren’t particularly difficult for gunsmiths, who also point out that the AR-15-style rifle, first developed for military use in the late 1950s, has a modular design that makes it easy to add or remove different features.

I suppose that the law could function as a symbolic gesture expressing New York State’s preference for the elimination/control of guns that aren’t associated with hunting. There’s something to be said for affirming a group’s inclination to denounce the kind of weapons that we so often hear about in mass tragedies.

Perhaps the differences between hunting rifles and “assault weapons” can only be found in styling and cultural association. If the ban was based on lethality rather than military features, it would certainly impact more than a few dozen models of gun.

If you’re interested to learn exactly what counts as an assault rifle, here is an illustrated list (PDF) courtesy of NY State.

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Un-Selling The Gun: Anti-Firearms Advertising

An anti-gun advertisement Arkadi Gerney helped to create featuring Omar Samaha, whose sister Reema was killed by Seung-Hui Cho in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

Last week on The New Yorker‘s website, gun policy activist Arkadi Gerney wrote about a deeply personal experience with firearms that lead him to his pro-gun-control career. As someone currently researching in the stories told by firearms advertising, I am also interested to learn about the techniques Gerney used to try and sway people in the opposite direction, to “un-sell” guns in the interest of gun control. Gerney talks about campaigns that worked and didn’t work, saying:

All these efforts depended on survivors and family members telling their stories. Internal public-opinion research we conducted showed that the scale of gun violence made the numbers hard to comprehend. It was important, we determined, to put human faces on the problem. People listen when victims talk to them.

It’s a way of making the abstract concrete. Humans are famously terrible at understanding the full meaning of numbers or complex statistical analysis. In many ways, the American gun control debate is a debate about who controls the gun narrative— the meanings and associations we embed into these objects. As Gerney writes:

The gun issue is emotionally charged—and ripe for emotional appeals. It’s easy to make data-driven arguments for stronger gun laws built on statistical evidence; but that levelheaded approach has never been enough.

Second Amendment advocates know this, too; they’ve developed a case with its own emotional weight, on which the core issue is not guns but freedom. It’s about liberty fought and died for two hundred and thirty years ago, and paid for with blood in fields in foreign lands ever since. Advocates for stronger gun laws would be unwise to diminish the deeply felt sense of history, culture, and liberty that for so many years has motivated millions to send thirty dollars a year to the N.R.A., call a member of Congress, hold a sign at a rally, or run for office.

Gerney goes on to say that “it’s the stories of the people whose lives are changed that can help to permanently change the debate, and thus make our country safer.”

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Guns for Kids

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Images from the website of Keystone Sporting Arms, via MotherJones

Mother Jones recently ran a piece about Keystone Sporting Arms, the company that made and sold the child’s rifle used by a 5-year-old in the accidental shooting of his sister last week. The story is accompanied by images from the company’s “kid’s corner” photo gallery. Children, mostly girls, ranging in age from about 4 months to 14 years are shown posing with their rifles or proudly pointing to paper targets or dead animals.

But when I look at these pictures, I don’t see Future Gun Nuts of America but rather young people who are working to master a skill that takes a challenging amount of responsibility. These kids probably feel very good to be trusted with something potentially deadly– and satisfied when they use it properly. I know this probably a controversial stance but I see teaching an elementary schooler to correctly store, care for, and shoot a rifle as not too far from teaching a 4 year old how to chop carrots (not to mention this 11-month-old using a machete). Giving kids responsibility and challenging them in a safe environment with child-appropriate tools is probably a good thing.

That said, I don’t think it is appropriate to market firearms directly to children. But that is mostly because I don’t think products should be marketed to children at all. In 1980, the Canadian province of Quebec banned advertising aimed at youth under the age of 13 with a 1989 Supreme Court Ruling that “advertising directed at young children is per se manipulative. Such advertising aims to promote products by convincing those who will always believe.” Adult consumers have enough trouble parsing the constant bombardment of ads. I don’t think that most children are adept at separating marketing fiction from fact.

That said, The New York Times‘ coverage of the guns-marketed-to-youth trend is a undeniably chilling. Dr. Jess P. Shatkin, the director of undergraduate studies in child and adolescent mental health at New York University, is quoted in the NYT story saying that

young people are naturally impulsive and that their brains “are engineered to take risks,” making them ill suited for handling guns. “There are lots of ways to teach responsibility to a kid,” Dr. Shatkin said. “You don’t need a gun to do it.”

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