Firearms security groups denounce a new AR-15 marketed with children

Four years ago this week, in one of the deadliest mass shootings in memory, 17 people were shot dead by a 19-year-old gunman at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The tragedy has spurred a revitalized gun reform movement led by a new generation, with youth coalitions like March For Our Lives calling for sensible gun legislation. Yet school shootings continue to rise: between August and December 2021, there were 136 shots On the field of the school, the highest rate over a period of 5 months since the Everrytown for Gun Safety Defense Group began to follow it in 2013. And 70% of school shooters, many of whom have easy access to home weaponsare under 18 years old.

Against this backdrop of ever-increasing gun violence, and particularly by young perpetrators, the release of a new rifle marketed directly to children has stunned even gun reform experts who have been following the aggressive targeting of children by industry for years. They say this new gun, openly advertised as a children’s version of the AR-15 – the style of rifle used in 11 out of 12 most high profile mass shootings, including Sandy Hook and Las Vegas – is the most brazen example of such targeted gun marketing they have ever seen. The move is part of a trend by an unstable firearms industry in a volatile market to target potential new consumers, but it’s also driven by a rise in political extremism.

Last month, the JR-15, or Junior 15, debuted at the SHOT Show, billed as the nation’s largest annual trade show for the sport shooting, hunting and outdoor industry. The event is hosted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a firearms industry trade association. The rifle is made by WEE1 Tacticalan offshoot of Schmid Tooling and Engineering, which has been selling AR-15 components for 30 years. a november Press release from WEE1 specifically notes the appeal of the JR-15 to children: “Our vision is to develop a range of shooting platforms that will safely help adults introduce children to shooting sports,” it reads. To do this, he built a gun whose “ergonomics are suitable for children”: it is lighter than an adult version, to 2.2 pounds, 20% smaller, and with a patented, non-standard Safety mechanism on AR-15s, which must be removed “with some force” and shot before they could shoot. Aside from a few tweaks, the company boasts that it “works like mom and dad’s gun.”

A page from Wee1 Tactical’s JR-15 brochure. [Image: Wee1 Tactical]

Baby’s first AR-15

“There have been young people shooting guns for 80 years, but there has never been a young AR-15,” says Ryan Busse, a former firearms executive, now a senior adviser at Giffords, a leading gun violence prevention group, co-founded by a former congresswoman. Gabby Giffords. “I’ve never seen one that was just a blatant offensive and tactical weapon of war,” adds Busse, author of Shootinga book that deals with the extremist radicalization of the industry.

The JR-15 is a .22 caliber rifle, which means it takes bullets with a diameter of .22 inches; .22 caliber rifles are common as starter rifles because their shots are slightly slower than cartridges Used in an AR-15, with a lower retreat – less painful for small shoulders. But, says Busse, touting a .22 as safe is a myth. (The The NRA get rid of it as ever “a hard hitter”.) It’s still a semi-automatic rifle that most would consider an assault weapon. “Trust me, you don’t want to get shot with a .22,” he says. “To say that they are not lethal, it’s a joke.

Specs aside, the appeal to kids is clear: WEE1’s colorful logo features two skulls, depicted as a little boy and a girl, sucking on pacifiers and with a gun sight over one eye. The brand “keeps the wow factor with the kids”; the logos are also featured on children’s glow-in-the-dark baseball caps.

[Image: Wee1 Tactical]

Gun manufacturers have sold semi-automatic rifles aimed at children in the past. Josh Sugarmann, Founder and Executive Director of Police Center Violence, a Firearms Control Group, published a study in 2016 entitled “Start them young.” It features a whole list of past examples, including a Smith & Wesson M&P .22 rifle (M&P stands for Military and Police) made in bright colors, like Platinum Pink and Harvest Moon Orange. Another company, Marlin, has made a model that The NRA family praisedwriting in 2014: “These rifles aren’t just sized for kids, they’re designed entirely for kids.”

But Sugarmann says WEE1 is more aggressively targeting kids with a product that’s explicitly a starter AR-15. “It’s something we’ve never seen before,” he said. “I think what makes WEE1 JR-15 really so horrible, it’s the fact that he says aloud the calm part. There is no shame. (Wee1 did not answer a ask for an interview.)

A new generation of consumers and patriots

Although less visible to the public than the NRA, the NSSF is also a critical influence in the firearms industry; this outmoded the RNA in lobbying dollars more than double in 2020. (The NSSF also did not respond to an interview request.) Both groups want to increase revenue for an industry whose long-term health is challenging. Although sales increasePICs and purchase hollow systematically depend on demographic factors and political changesand the rate of possession of firearms has been declining for decades. Obviously, the industry feels pressure to attract new potential consumers.

This is an increasingly difficult task in modern America, even with the increase in gun violence. More families learned children to hunt; “Getting up early and sitting blind” isn’t the norm for kids these days, Sugarmann says. In 1997, 33% of households had hunters, down to 17% in 2018. This also means a drop in gun ownership, down 32% over this period. So the industry has found other avenues to increase sales: focusing more on self-defense, protecting freedoms, and targeting young people, with the goal of securing the next generation of political gun advocates.

Busse believes this shift is driven as much by politics as by a desire to reach a new demographic. “It’s a MAGA hat,” he says. “It’s one thing to show that your kids are going to be patriots too.” He says it’s as if parents took their children to a Trump rally. He considers the attachment to this weapon a sign of extremism: before the early 2000s, he says that trade shows would never have had AR-15s on display, let alone junior versions. An important factor for this: the 1994 ban on assault weapons covered many types of semi-automatic rifles, including the AR-15; the law expired in 2004.

The price to pay for giving children greater access to firearms is serious. Mass shootings aside, there has been an increase accidental shots at home during the pandemic: From March to December 2020, there were 31% more accidental gun deaths than during the same period in 2019. Still, gun manufacturers and lobbyists seem intending to market weapons like skateboards or energy drinks — as a perfectly reasonable move, as if guns were “some sort of talismanic object to guide them down the path to maturity,” says Sugarmann. Arm groups say coaching and security programslike the NRA”Eddie EagleContribute to reduce accidental deaths; various studies on these programs conclude quite the opposite. Yet WEE1 expresses that same sentiment: “We believe this early introduction will produce a deep respect for firearms that will go on and last a lifetime safely!” the website reads.

In addition to sensible gun legislation, safe storage training and other efforts, Sugarmann says it’s paramount that people open their eyes to what the gun industry really try to do. “Think about that for a moment,” he said. “Here is a company that markets assault rifles for children, openly and clearly, without the slightest hesitation.”

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