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NEW YORK TIMES February 23, 2020 – It was like any other convention in this city of neon and slot machines, except for all the guns.
At the Shot Show, an annual gathering of the firearms industry in Las Vegas, flash drives shaped like military rifles were handed out. Influencers with large followings on Instagram and TikTok posed for selfies, Glocks in hand. Visitors took turns sitting in the “Freedom Throne,” an eight-foot chair made out of shell casings and other munitions from a company called Lucky Shot USA.
But amid the racks of mounted handguns and hunting gear in camouflage print, many people working for the 2,600 companies represented at the show were saying that the industry should embrace a softer, more inclusive marketing strategy, if it wants to broaden its reach beyond the aging white men who have been its core customers.
The revised marketing strategy is starting to gain traction against a backdrop of sagging gun sales and a rise in mass shootings. The 2017 massacre of 58 people, with hundreds more wounded, happened in Las Vegas, three miles from the Sands Expo Convention Center, where this year’s Shot Show was held.
Blackhawk, a maker of firearms accessories and protective gear, was one of the companies that has moved away from macho branding.
“The whole skull-and-crossbones and lightning bolts and all that kind of stuff, you don’t see that very much anymore,” Joshua Waldron, the company’s president, said at the show. “It’s about figuring out a way to change the narrative to where it’s not so focused on tactical or that aggressive side of things, but to be like, ‘It’s a responsible thing to do, to protect yourself.’”
An ad for the Thompson/Center Compass II Compact rifle in a recent issue of Field & Stream reflects the changed strategy. It features a man and young boy clad in camouflage, gazing at each other while standing in the woods. The rifle, slung over the boy’s shoulder, is at the edge of the image.
Jeremy Flinn, whose Stone Road Media marketing agency works with firearms and accessories companies like Roam Rifles and Thril, said his goal was to “put a better face in front of people.” He added that his “biggest fear” would be “scaring off that new person.”
That means less blood in advertisements featuring hunters, who are described in marketing materials as “harvesting” animals, rather than “killing” them. Models are shown wearing eye and ear protection, and fewer advertising images include the military-style rifles associated with mass shootings.
“What I’m not going to show is a guy, with one hand, just jacking it up in the air,” Mr. Flinn said at the convention, which drew more than 55,000 visitors. [full article]