Tag Archives: advertising

Selling Fear: Gun Advertising Aimed At Women


Yesterday afternoon I popped over to Quad Cinema on 13th Street and watched A Girl And A Gun, Cathryne Czubek’s recently released documentary on female gun owners in America. It is an excellent cross section of stories from a variety of women whose lives have been touched by firearms: from the Tai Chi instructor who purchased a handgun for protection against an ex-boyfriend to the mother and victim’s right’s advocate whose daughter was paralyzed by a stray bullet.

But the film churned up a whole host of contradictory feelings: pride in the women who have mastered gun use as a sport and tool for empowerment, anxiety and moral disdain at the fact that guns make it easier for us to kill one another, internal debate about whether women using guns was an appropriation of male patriarchy and oppression or an assertion of independence. I’m not sure that I’ll ever reconcile all of these reactions. But I am very clear on my feelings about one section of the film: fear-based gun advertisements aimed at women.

Scotsdale Gun Club Ad

For decades, firearms companies have told women that we need guns for protection and safety. And I hate this. I feel it is an acceptance of male violence — that it is energy and effort misdirected to treat a symptom instead of addressing the real problem and finding a solution. These advertisements seem to assume that the danger comes from outside of the home. And that it is the woman’s job to stop instead of society’s job to prevent.

And even firearms instructors buy into the idea that women need guns in order to not be murdered or raped. The very nice gentleman who taught me how to shoot two years ago talked about how I needed to carry a gun in my car in case it broke down in a rural part of the state and I was left alone on the side of the road. “Don’t be a victim,” he told me. A male instructor shown in A Girl And A Gun says “I absolutely guarantee to you that nobody ever raped Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Wesson.”

The World Health Organization recently reported:

Physical or sexual violence is a public health problem that affects more than one third of all women globally… intimate partner violence is the most common type of violence against women, affecting 30% of women worldwide.

ladies home companion

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A Girl And A Gun

A friend sent me the link to this amazing trailer for “A Girl and A Gun.” It looks like it tackles some of my favorite issues– targeted advertising, genderization of firearms, narratives of security, gun aesthetics. It’s playing at Quad Cinema here in NYC beginning on July 5th. There should be a Q&A following one of the screenings that weekend. Anyone care to join?

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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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