Selling Guns to the Gun-Shy


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Drizzt
July 29, 2005, 04:05 PM
Selling Guns to the Gun-Shy
To Expand Customer Base,
Makers of Firearms Stress
Safety, Security and Size

By MARK FRITZ
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
July 28, 2005; Page B1

When Nascar racer Ryan Newman ran the fastest lap at the Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year, a member of Italy's Beretta family was waiting in victory lane, armed with a marketing strategy: a 12-gauge shotgun etched with Mr. Newman's image and valued at $65,000.

When grizzled gun dealers gathered for their big annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas last January, they found themselves rubbing holsters with a decidedly different demographic: people who play and profit from the booming sport of paintball.

Experiencing sluggish sales largely because hunters represent an aging demographic, the $2 billion-a-year gun industry has launched bolder marketing pitches to attract novices into the world of weaponry. Gun makers see potential growth in the self-defense, security and target-shooting markets, and the young, edgy, camouflage-clad Gen Y crowd is squarely in the cross hairs.

"You don't have to be a hunter to go shoot," says Scott Blackwell, division manager for manufacturing, product development and law enforcement at Beretta USA.

Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. unveiled a magazine ad this year that epitomizes the new approach. A young woman with a backpack stands alone near a canyon that yawns across a desolate landscape. The picture projects an image of adventure, with a whiff of vulnerability. But the copy warns that this is no easy prey: "I hike alone, I bike alone, I climb alone. But with my Smith & Wesson, I'm never alone."

In the gun industry, "there is a growing sophistication in marketing," says Gary Mehalik, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. "It's widening to include people from more diverse backgrounds."

Taking advantage of a prevailing pro-gun political climate in Washington, a fear of terrorism, and the steady liberalization of gun ownership spreading through statehouses across the country, Smith & Wesson and other makers and sellers of guns are touting a host of new products and features.

"I think innovation is critical to the industry," says Smith & Wesson's marketing chief, Tom Taylor. This year, Smith & Wesson introduced the 460XVR, which is designed to send a slug flying at 2,300 feet per second, making it the highest-velocity production revolver in the world. It is capable of nailing a target two football fields away at twice the speed of sound. It was named the 2005 "Handgun of the Year" by a group of 471 gun dealers, writers and executives under the auspices of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industry trade group.

The 460XVR is only a part of an arsenal that manufacturers are selling this year to Americans, who -- whether they like it or not -- keep getting more freedom to own, carry, conceal and shoot a stunningly eclectic selection of guns. The number of states with liberal conceal-and-carry laws -- permitting any adult without a felony conviction to slip a loaded Glock in his or her suitcoat -- jumped from 10 in 1990 to 39 as of this year.

What's more, the Senate this week postponed debate on the nation's wartime defense budget to close its current session with a vote on whether to grant immunity to the gun industry from liability lawsuits -- an indication of the gun lobby's influence.

One industry initiative that is being widely embraced is an emphasis on safety features to lure people frightened of firearms -- a notable reversal from a few years ago when Smith & Wesson was the lone gun manufacturer to agree to a Clinton administration demand to install internal locks. (The brand was widely boycotted as a result.)

This year, Sturm, Ruger & Co. of Southport, Conn. -- the largest U.S.-based gun maker based on guns sold -- upgraded 40 models, largely with safety features, including a prominent indicator showing users that the gun's chamber is loaded. Ruger, one of the few publicly traded weapons makers, says net firearms sales rose 8.2% in this year's first quarter from a year ago.

Sigarms Inc., a German-Swiss joint venture, now markets a Mauser semiautomatic pistol for the "conceal and carry" market that it calls "the safest handgun on the market today." The weapon has seven different safety features, both external and internal.

Almost all gun makers are tempting prospective buyers with rifles and handguns that come in a variety of colors, including olive green and "urban camouflage." And, like the manufacturers of laptops and MP3 players, gun makers across the board are locked in a struggle to make smaller guns with a bigger bang -- pocket rockets to tuck into your Dockers.

Springfield Armory of Geneseo, Ill., unveiled the slimmest .45-caliber conceal-and-carry gun on the market this year, the crown jewel of its Croatian-built XD line of semiautomatic pistols. Closely held Springfield Armory says the XD line, which kicked off in 2001, is its hottest seller.

The gun, the smallest of which has a suggested retail price of $514, has a $99 option just perfect for those unexpected encounters in dark alleys: a tiny flashlight that slips snugly along a track beneath the 3-inch barrel.

The XD line is aimed squarely at the Austrian-built Glock, which is celebrating its 20th year in this country. Along the way, it became a pop icon whose brand name has been invoked in an almost-uncountable number of rap tunes.

Jason Gillman, a 20-year-old student at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Mich., bought a .40-caliber Glock 23 in September. "It's comfortable to shoot at the range," he says, "and when I do start carrying [after he turns 21 next year], I'll be able to conceal it."

As more gun makers push new models that claim to be the smallest and the most concealable, Smith & Wesson recently reported that its net firearms sales for fiscal 2005 were up 11% from a year earlier, and it credited much of its growth to its large revolvers.

Sales of Smith & Wesson's gargantuan .50-caliber Magnum 500, introduced in 2003 as the most powerful production handgun on the market, seemed to accelerate in 2004 when the Violence Policy Center, a Washington gun-control group, issued a detailed report condemning the gun's outsize specifications and its purported ability to punch through most police body armor.

Unfazed, the company responded to attacks by making more variations of the Magnum 500: a longer one, a shorter one, and a modernistic model done in Darth Vader black

"Smith & Wesson should have paid the antigun movement royalties when they came out with that 500," says Russ Thurman, editor of Shooting Industry magazine.

Under an overhauled management team that includes former executives from Harley-Davidson, Black & Decker and Coca-Cola, Smith & Wesson has been taking advantage of the controversy, furiously marketing a brand name that has an 87% recognition rate among the general public, says Mr. Taylor, the marketing chief.

This year alone, Smith & Wesson is sponsoring a Nascar team, producing a cable-television show and promoting a pistol match to raise money for kids with cancer. It is also licensing its 153-year-old name to footwear, flashlights, baseball caps and barbeque grills. And it has retained a Hollywood product-placement firm to get more of its guns in movies.

The last time that Smith & Wesson had the world's most powerful revolver -- the .44 Magnum wielded by Clint Eastwood in the "Dirty Harry" movies of the 1970s -- sales boomed.

"Every time Dirty Harry made a new movie we'd sell all the .44 Magnums in the store," says Larry Barnett, a Huntsville, Ala., retailer.

http://online.wsj.com/public/article/0,,SB112250632587398062-0BO3rZrYVRRJuMnLiiPRUQJ_xLk_20060727,00.html?mod=tff_main_tff_top

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NineseveN
July 29, 2005, 04:12 PM
The 460XVR is only a part of an arsenal that manufacturers are selling this year to Americans, who -- whether they like it or not -- keep getting more freedom to own, carry, conceal and shoot a stunningly eclectic selection of guns. The number of states with liberal conceal-and-carry laws -- permitting any adult without a felony conviction to slip a loaded Glock in his or her suitcoat -- jumped from 10 in 1990 to 39 as of this year.

Um, where in the Fed laws does it say that having a felony conviction does not disqualify one from purchasing a firearm? It's been a rough day at work, but what the hell?

How can one legally conceal what they cannot legally own?

Polishrifleman
July 29, 2005, 05:09 PM
I just like "liberal conceal and carry laws" :D

Why isn't it written that in the past 15 years 29 more states have moved at least in partial support of the Constitution of the United States in regards to the Second Amendment? :banghead:

GEM
July 29, 2005, 05:29 PM
If they conservatized carry laws - there would be no carry!!!!

:neener:

Couldn't resist. What does Ann Coulter say to that!!

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