Billboard near Cameron, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation. This Rez Road Art is part of the Painted Desert Project, spearheaded by Jetsonorama.
This simple graph shows what many might consider an alarming trend: A huge increase in gun sales in the Western states in recent years. It’s good news for gun makers, who have experienced blockbuster sales, particularly in 2009 and 2012. It’s not so good news for those looking to curb gun violence.
Chances are, a lot of those new weapons are semi-automatic assault rifles, euphemistically termed “modern sporting rifles” by the industry, or semi-automatic handguns like the Glock 9mm used to shoot down U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Tucson two years ago. According to the annual report of Freedom Group, owner of Bushmaster, the maker of the AR-15 used in Newtown, the long rifle market has grown by 3 percent annually since 2007. The modern sporting market has ballooned by 27 percent each year during the same time.
Assault rifles aren’t very useful for hunters, say, or ranchers. But they sure are fun, apparently. They can be accessorized with hundreds of dollars worth of gear, including high-capacity magazines that allow a shooter to kill dozens of people before reloading. They are symbols of power and masculinity. And they’re selling like iPhones.
Much of the increase can be attributed to fear-mongering by the National Rifle Association upon the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The NRA warned gun owners of an impending federal push to ban guns and even confiscate them (unfounded, of course); they did the same four years later. Sales went through the roof. After the mass shootings in Tucson in 2011 and Aurora and Newtown in 2012, gun owners again panicked, and spent millions to stockpile more firearms.
But it’s not just fear of new gun control laws. It’s also jubilation at increasingly laxer laws, especially in the Western states, where it’s becoming easier and easier to tote a weapon, concealed or not, into school, a bar, or what have you, all thanks to lobbying by the NRA. Over the last decade or so, the New West has become the Wild West that never was. Back in the late 1800s, the heyday of the Wild West, gun control laws were far stricter than they are now. Concealed weapons were banned in almost every state. And a lot of Western towns enacted even more stringent gun regulations of their own. Of course, guns were a lot less deadly back then, too.
It’s funny how the NRA can inspire gun sales. It’s also worth noting how the NRA is funded: by corporate donations and by so-called “round-up” programs, where gun-buying customers can give money to the NRA at the cash register. In other words, more gun sales equal more money for the NRA, which is why the organization tries to block any possible hindrance to selling more guns. The organization’s not standing up for the second amendment, traditional rural values or even for current gun owners. They’re standing up for nothing but corporate profit.
More thoughts on the new NRA, the new gun owner, and the myth of the Wild West here.
— Jonathan Thompson (a.k.a. gin+gelato)
Bisti Sand, Black on White, 2012.
Memories of Summer: Symi, Greece, 2012.