How to Sell Guns (and Why!)

(A letter from Senior Diabolic Marketing Executive Gobblescrew to Junior Demonic Marketing Executive Wormscrub—with apologies to C. S. Lewis)

My dear Wormscrub,

Just to sum up—you asked how we foment hatred among humans, so that as many as possible come to us in the end. I explained that one important tactic is to make sure a few of them are much more powerful than all the rest. This guarantees that the vast majority will fear/hate/emulate the powerful few, while the powerful few will reciprocally fear/hate/despise the majority. I also mentioned that, strange though it appears to us, power among most modern humans is represented by money.

You were puzzled about how we get humans to hand their own money to other humans who already have most of the money and power. From my reply, you now know that the answer is marketing—we coach a few humans in how to get everyone else to buy things they don’t really need. And you already know this means that what you’re really selling is not the product itself, but feelings—especially the potent duo of fantasy and fear. Then you camouflage your work with plenty of tried-and-true add-ons, like ad-hominem attacks, either/or fallacies, bandwagon appeals, the strike-out tactic, and other proven techniques.

This letter will give you a practical example of how to do this, showcasing the work of Gall, one of my best (former) students. You’ll learn a lot! 

The AR-15 rifle is once again under fire by gun banners—who ignore the fact that rifles of any kind are seldom used in crime, and seem to despise anyone who dares to own one. Many who are ignorant on firearms even consider the gun a “weapon of war,” suitable for nothing but murder and mayhem.

Tactic: Mostly ad hominem and “straw man.” Convince your audience that anyone who thinks they don’t need this item (a) is ignorant, and (b) despises them. That way, you can make sure your audience never listens to any of the opposition’s real arguments, and you’ve created a safe space for your salesmanship. Calling those people a simplistic name, like “gun-banners,” helps too. It fosters that helpful us-vs-them mentality that ensures we can get people to react with strong negative emotions, never engaging their heads or their hearts. And it doesn’t hurt to equate gun ownership with defiant courage. Gall’s off to a great start!

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Fact is, the AR-15-type rifle is the most popular rifle in America for many reasons.

Tactic: The “bandwagon” argument—tell people that everyone else loves this, so they should too. In fact, what makes any item “the most popular” is usually marketing, not the intrinsic value of the product. So “popular” doesn’t mean “best,” it just means “best-advertised.” A double bonus for Gall, for using the simple fact of previous sales success to justify future sales!

Self-Defense

Gun-banners would have you believe the AR-15 isn’t useful for home defense, but they couldn’t be more wrong. NRA commentator and former Navy SEAL Dom Raso, who now trains individuals in self-defense, said it best: “For the vast majority of the people I work with, there is no better firearm to defend their homes against realistic threats than an AR-15 semi-automatic. It’s easy to learn and easy to use. It’s accurate. It’s reliable.” 

Tactic 1: Fear/reassurance. Arouse primitive emotions, especially the sensation of being attacked, and then show the reader how to become strong enough to handle any challenge. It’s basically the same as 1950s comic-book ads for programs to make “98-lb weaklings” into fearless he-men. A classic! And in this newer version, it doesn’t even have to work!

Tactic 2: Appeal to a presumed authority. It helps to have a mutual-benefit relationship with that person. This guy has parlayed his Navy experience into building a company that sells military-style weapons to civilians, so you know you can rely on him for marketing backup.

Tactic 3: Use scary phrases like “realistic threat.” Not, of course, to limit your market to the few those words will apply to! It would be disastrous to get people to think about the chances an armed intruder will really burst into their homes. So don’t! But the mere use of such words will subtly convey the idea to every reader that he or she is threatened. Plant the idea, and let it grow in the dark, unexamined.

NB: For us, the really unwelcome “intruder” is always clear thinking. Make sure no one tries to picture what would actually happen if an armed assailant broke into their house. Of course most humans can’t even keep their reading glasses handy—let alone have a weapon within reach for every unexpected situation. And if they kept it loaded and ready to go within the house, of course the person most likely to be shot would be a member of the household, not a burglar or assassin; so again, always be sure to keep cold hard numbers in a locked cabinet, out of reach of anyone with a bank account. Got that? Good! Moving on!

Fun/Recreation

If you can find a rifle out there that’s more fun than the AR-15 to take to the range and punch some holes in paper, I’m not sure what it would be. From short-range plinking to longer-range precision shooting, the gun is easy to shoot—and easy to hit targets with. And, as you know, nothing’s more fun than hitting what you shoot at.

Tactic: Gall’s using a risky argument; there’s a real chance someone will start laughing. Even gun enthusiasts can probably think quite quickly of several things that are more fun than target shooting. But Gall does a good job of creating a sense of camaraderie (“as you know”) while suggesting that the AR-15 is just a harmless recreational device (“plink”), and that removing it from the market would be downright mean-spirited. Hey, who wants to be a spoilsport?

A particularly neat touch is the way Gall manages to argue both that these rifles are cute toys, and that they are satisfyingly deadly weapons for serious situations.

So far, we’ve been looking at how merely good salesmanship works. Great salesmanship turns your existing customers into an unpaid sales force. Let’s see how it works.

Teaching/Learning 

With simple operation and very low recoil, there’s no better rifle to teach youngsters the skill of accurate rifle shooting. The fact that shooting this rifle is easy and tons of fun also makes it great for starting out new shooters, regardless of age. I’ve yet to take a beginner—young or old—out to shoot an AR-15 without them getting a huge smile on their face after the first magazine.

Teaching children to use assault rifles for fun is a beautiful bonding experience! Of course most humans would recoil if they really read what this says (though we’ve brought a few of them around to our own viewpoint). So Gall uses words like “simple” and “youngsters” and “tons of fun” and “huge smile” to focus their minds firmly on the enjoyment. They won’t even notice they’re developing warm, positive feelings around associating children with military-style gunfire.

Hunting

The AR-15 and its big brother, the AR-10, are excellent hunting rifles. AR-15s in 5.56/.223 are perfect for varmints and predator hunting, and with the proper ammunition can make a great deer rifle. Of course, the AR-15 is also chambered in a number of other more powerful cartridges for big game, and the .308-chambered AR-10 is a deer hunting favorite for many. Don’t buy the gun-banner lie that the AR-15 can’t be a good hunting rifle. 

This one is a nice solid back-to-basics example. Textbook stuff.

Tactic 1: Use lots of glowing, emotive terms (excellent, perfect, proper, great, powerful, big, favorite, good). That way, the lack of facts won’t be evident.

Tactic 2: Include the bandwagon argument that “many” people like to use the rifle this way.

Tactic 3: Fuzzy logic. Make sure to blur the distinction between a gun that “can be” a hunting rifle, and a gun that is a legitimate hunting need. This is a bit like saying that because a Humvee can be used to take kids to school, it’s the best vehicle for that job. So you can’t say it directly, but you can certainly suggest it to people whose brains you’ve primed to eagerly accept the images you introduce.

Tactic 4: Ad hominem. In case your reader is tempted to wonder exactly how a rifle developed for helping soldiers survive battlefield situations is also “perfect” for a solo activity that traditionally places a high value on stealth and efficiency rather than sheer firepower, remind the reader that anyone who disagrees with you is a liar.

Gall wins a bonus for nice, tight grouping on the target!

Tinkering

If you like to tinker, the AR-15 is the rifle for you. Aftermarket parts and upgrades are readily available from hundreds of sources, and the gun’s easily understandable operation system makes it simple to work on. If you can’t build one of these rifles on your kitchen table with just a few specialized tools (legally, of course), you probably skipped shop class in high school. Installing new stocks, triggers, hand guards, pistol grips and other parts is also a breeze. 

This is one of the bits that pushed Gall into the very top of his class. A+ material here!

Tactic: Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Use cute, cozy phrasing (“tinker,” “kitchen table,” “shop class”) even as you indicate that you’re marketing this gun to people interested in making it much more destructive than it already is. (But “legally, of course”!)

The focus on aftermarket upgrades is key to further enriching the gun folks, creating that wide inter-group gap that is so important to our own work. They need to ensure that the already-sold item generates a further revenue stream for the maker, just like all those electronic devices that need constant upgrades, ports, drives, and plug-ins. Still, that’s untapped potential if buyers aren’t convinced. Gall transitions elegantly from assuring them that this, as it stands, is the best gun they could possibly have, to convincing them that it could be much better… with just a bit more outlay.

But my favorite feature of this particular section is the way Gall smoothly pivots from the notion that the AR-15 is a harmless tool, to the covert reminder that it’s also a potentially illegal weapon of mass destruction. This use of the “strike-through” tactic enables him to market it not only to genuinely law-abiding hunters and target shooters but also—and publicly, in the same paragraph!—to terrorists, bunker-building conspiracy theorists, and unstable teens. In fact, Gall’s deliberate introduction of the idea of illegality under cover of legality even enables law-abiding buyers to enjoy a teensy dash of bad-assery. You won’t be able to do as well as this on your first few tries, but practice makes perfect!

Farm/Ranch Use

The AR-15 is an excellent all-around rifle for farmers and ranchers to carry in their trucks for predator control or other utilitarian uses. Excellent accuracy combined with good magazine capacity is enough to put the hurt on a pack of coyotes preying on calves or lambs—or on wild hogs tearing up your alfalfa or wheat field. An AR-15 is also handy for farmers and ranchers to have on hand in remote areas should they run into those who would do ill to them.

Tactic 1: Fantasy. Romanticize the product! Works every time. Here it’s done “Marlboro-man” style, by conjuring up images of 10-gallon hats and brawny pickup trucks. (The demons in charge of cigarette marketing did some awesomely plutonic work. Study it!)

Dazzling your readers is important, because of course they aren’t ever going to encounter a horde of wild hogs or defend a calf from coyotes at all, let alone while carrying this gun. What you need to sell them is the image of themselves as heroic defenders. So let’s see how to bring in some more techniques to accomplish that…

Tactic 2: Fear. Create images of destructive predators roaming in packs, and outlaws lurking in the sagebrush. Get the reader to picture himself as the protector of helpless livestock, and then to picture himself winning a battle against bad guys thanks to his trusty rifle. It won’t hurt if, subliminally, he’s associating the predators with groups of people we’ve trained him to distrust; this way, he can picture himself in this situation even if he’s never seen a ranch. And that really helps with our main objective: sowing hatred as widely and efficiently as possible.

(Your reader isn’t ready yet for the thought that the most destructive predator is the unbalanced person carrying this rifle into a school, church, hospital, or concert venue. Wait for it…)

Tactic 3: Gall’s expert use of jocular quasi-military understatement like “put the hurt on” and “do ill to” encourages the reader to think of himself as the kind of guy who is laconic and unruffled in the face of deadly danger. Remember—just because you’re using fear to sell your product doesn’t mean you want people to think of themselves as fearful! Make them think that the more money they spend on self-defense, the braver they are. We know that focusing on self-defense all the time makes people more scared, but we’ve taken good care that they don’t!

Competitive Shooting

The AR-15 platform is excellent for a variety of competitive shooting sports. As a 3-gun competitor, I see hundreds of people shoot AR-15s safely and accurately on a regular basis. Banning ownership of AR-15-type rifles for law-abiding Americans would be devastating to 3-gun—the fastest growing shooting sport in the country right now. 

Tactic: Bandwagon, of course! What’s popular is naturally good, and threatening it is naturally bad. Deploying a couple more loaded words like “law-abiding” and “devastating” doesn’t hurt, as long as no one notices their illogical application.

Disaster Preparedness

I’m not someone who believes in an impending doomsday scenario where we will all find ourselves in a critical survival situation sometime soon. But I’m also not one who thinks that couldn’t happen. I don’t see how any survival situation wouldn’t be made better by having an AR-15 or two on hand. In fact, the AR-15 might just be the perfect SHTF firearm. 

Another really expert use of one of my favorite techniques. No matter whether you call it paralepsis or “the strike-through tactic”—it’s a winner! On the surface, Gall has cast doubt on the doomsday scenario (so no one can accuse him of being a nutcase). At the same time, by simply mentioning that scenario, he has reminded people who do believe in it that they need to stock up. (On guns, of course. It’s not our job to remind them that bottled water, canned food, and space blankets are better survival-kit supplies than a surplus of firearms–because naturally, their survival is not our goal.)

Bringing Women Into Shooting 

Women are currently the fastest-growing demographic in the shooting sports, and the AR-15 is doubtless one of the reasons why. Women love the “cool factor” of the AR just as much as men do. And those with zero shooting experience—who might harbor some fear of rifle shooting because of a rifle’s perceived “kick”—quickly learn that the soft-recoiling AR-15 is not only a pleasure to shoot, but fun to customize just the way they want it.  

Tactic: a variation on the bandwagon tactic—whatever men are doing, women should get to do too, and anything that is “fast-growing” must be desirable! And “desirable” is a key word here, because now we are selling guns with sex (just check out some of the images associated with this line of thought).

This part is really crucial. When we’ve helped gun-makers enrich themselves by saturating their original market, it’s time to help them keep widening that power gap by marketing to the rest of the world. (Guys must never notice that with one breath we sell them this weapon as a way to feel like he-men, and in the next breath we teach them to distribute it to kids and women. If they noticed, they’d realize the common factor is sales—not their precious identity!) This works just like the good old days of “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” when we got women to think smoking was a sign of liberation. Fortunately, we’ve made sure women have forgotten how that worked out for them!

America’s Rifle 

While those who hate guns would have you think the AR-15 is nothing more than a murder machine, in truth it’s the musket of our day—everyman’s rifle, proudly owned by patriotic men and women of all ages, colors and interests. As Dom Raso said in his recent video: “I guarantee you, if the Founding Fathers would have known this gun was going to be invented, they wouldn’t have rewritten the Second Amendment, they would have fortified it in stone. Because they knew the only way for us to stay free is by having whatever guns the bad guys have. This firearm gives average people the advantage they so desperately need and deserve to protect their life, liberty and happiness.” 

Regardless of why we, as Americans, choose to own AR-15 rifles, we will always face the scoffers—Second Amendment deniers who would be happy to take away our right to own any gun. In the end, we don’t need to puzzle for answers to anyone who rudely asks us, “Why do you need an AR-15?” Instead, we should simply ask our own question: “Why should the government be able to deny us the constitutionally protected right to own one?” 

In the final sprint, pour it on.

Name-calling is tried and true: “scoffers” and “deniers” want to take away all guns. (Note that Gall is careful not to say anyone is trying to ban all guns, because they aren’t; but of course you can say anything you like about what other people want to do, without fear of being proven wrong—good job!) Invoke that important word “choice,” the friend of all marketers whose product is both optional and dangerous. And then assert that it’s rude to ask your neighbor why they need an assault rifle. By this time your readers will hardly boggle at even that ridiculous claim. (Aren’t humans fun?)

Owning an AR-15 is as uniquely American as baseball, apple pie and the Second Amendment. It’s a classic example of American exceptionalism, independence and ingenuity—all the things that make us the land of the free and home of the brave.

Tactic: Jingoism. Appeal to nationalistic fervor: our team, rah rah! Say it loudly enough and often enough, and you can actually convince humans (at least, once you’ve simultaneously scared them into believing someone’s out to get them, and confused them into believing you’re on their side, instead of in their wallet) that a weapon meant for killing dozens of people in one burst is a warm, innocent celebration of American culture, on a par with Fourth-of-July family barbecues.

True to his name, Gall takes it to another level by going on to suggest that the uniquely high rate of gun deaths is a patriotic sacrifice on the altar of American uniqueness. Convince Americans it’s actually good that they’re especially likely to die of gunshot wounds! This is how we get them to ignore all those people who keep yammering on that America is the only country in the world where 10 people out of every 100,000 die of gunshot wounds every year. What really matters is that America is the best market in the world for gun manufacturers. Now that Gall has made Americans proud of that, they will defend to the death our right to increase power imbalance by helping some humans make excess money off of their deaths.

As you know, Gall has been reassigned to other work, and this careful review is your springboard as you take on his account. See what you can make of it!

Your ever-hungry uncle,

Gobblescrew

Postcard— 

You’ve been doing a great job! I particularly like the way you took Gall’s work about arming apparently unlikely groups like women and children, and expanded it to arming teachers, of all people. You’re off and running! In a few more years, having convinced everyone that teachers need guns, you’ll be ready to start convincing them that elementary school children need to come to school armed, in case a deranged teacher starts to spray the classroom. Just make sure they don’t see that conclusion coming before they’re ready to reach it “on their own”!

The great thing about this particular account is that you get to multiply hatred both by increasing that wealth gap, and by creating an armed standoff amongst virtually all the citizens of an entire nation that is theoretically not even at war.

Keep working. Your continued existence depends on it.

(Have you thought of doctors yet?)

–Gobblescrew

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