Why Would Young People Join?

The Trace is reporting a startling statistic about people who are donating to NRA-PVF. NRA is lead by a septuagenarian (Wayne turns 70 today! Happy Birthday Wayne! My dad is 70 too, but unlike you, he retired 8 years ago) who hasn’t done a damned thing to appeal to younger shooters. “OK Boomer” is a meme absolutely made for the NRA under Wayne.

NRA needs to update its image. Really, they needed to do it a decade ago. Time is running out. I suspect NRA is facing the same demographic cliff my club is looking at in a decade, and for the same reason: nothing was done to cater to younger shooters for years. The Angry Dana Strategy was a waste of time. They would have done better to flush all that money down the toilet. Anger does not appeal to younger people. Anger appeals to old farts with nothing better to do than get themselves worked up on social media.

For years NRA has not at all played to their strengths. They trashed their own training programs for the Carry Guard debacle. They’ve deemphasized outreach to shooting communities and don’t focus on growing them. That should be NRA’s bread and butter. Political power will follow from that. But instead we’re bleeding NRA dry to cover for Wayne’s past sins.

26 thoughts on “Why Would Young People Join?”

  1. When I was a kid, NRA was the organization that promoted gun safety and ran competitive shooting events. Then it started to gain the image of being primarily a political organization. I blame NRA and the leftwing media about equally for that, but it is what it is. NRA is now in a similar position to the GOP with suburban voters–it’s been made to look extremist in the minds of people whose highest value seems to be not looking like you’re “way too into” anything. I don’t know how you can fight that attitude in a world where social media memes direct public opinion.

    1. One of NRA’s problems is that it needs to be both. But concentrated on the political fight at the expense of the shooting programs. They failed to understand that the shooting programs, clubs, training, etc, are the foundation of movement. You have to keep that healthy and growing if you want there to even be a political fight.

      1. Being involved in organizations–the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts–that are completely non-political and focus on young people, one of the biggest issues there is just to get their attention. Kids often play two sports, on top of school-based extracurricular activities. The Scouts, at least in urban areas, have moved away from shooting activities (for political reasons) and so you not only have to convince young people and parents to be open to shooting, you have to get them to make time for it when they’re already doing two, three things per kid almost every day of the week.

        That being said, I have an idea for a club or class for kids, that would focus on the STEM aspects of firearms and hold the shooting off as a motivational factor. The idea is more or less to get the parents on board by flogging STEM, knowing that the kids will be entranced by the potential of handling real guns. At the end, you’d hopefully have graduates who aren’t frightened of an inanimate object, and will tell their peers all about it in order to normalize guns to some of them as well.

        Finally, maybe I’m just a middle-aged Fudd, but I think video games like Call of Duty don’t help our cause. Yeah, they make guns and shooting cool, but they also make it all about killing people, and I have to imagine that actually makes it easier to push the “weapons of war” line to people whose only exposure to MSRs is through those games.

        I have more thoughts but I try not to write a book in blog comments :)

        1. Video Games are about the only exposure kids have to shooting if they aren’t coming into the issue via their parents. I think well adjusted kids know it’s just a game, and to the extent that it might push them over the line to try shooting real guns and dip their toe into the gun culture, I think it’s a net benefit. I agree that other ways of exposing kids to shooting would be better, but the wine mom political culture we live in is precluding a lot of that.

        2. Unfortunately, Scouts are political these days. Girl Scouts went left long ago and the Boy Scouts are heading there.

  2. I guess States like Virginia, Colorado, and Washington State are the “Canary in The Coal Mine” for us…..Not good, because those States (especially Virginia, sadly) are the most recent locations to succumb to the The Democrat/Leftist Playbook of rigging the Electorate with Demographics……Virginia; Where America was essentially born, maybe where it begins to die?

    P.O.S Republicans just sitting pat at sippy-cup tea-time and ‘going along to get along’ with the Democrats is really what angers me the most. Half of the Republican Party (at a minimum) just campaign as conservatives to get elected so they can feather their nests, and the NRA, right now, is just like the establishment GOP in that regard.

    I keep myself positive though, because the gun-clubs that the wife and I attend (My wife is half Brazilian, and her Brazilian family here are all 2nd Amendment Supporters like myself) here in Southern Ohio actually have very young and diverse crowds, especially around the Ohio University area. Exchange Students and Immigrant Students all seem to enjoy and truly appreciate the gun-clubs and it definitely makes me happy to see it.

    The only way to turn the tide is through winning the culture-wars, that of which we’ve been losing over the last generation. Culture is not genetically predetermined by someone’s race/ethnicity, and it is that message that must be used to beat back the Leftist Weaponization of Demographics.

    To go back on what Stacy mentioned about Social Media, that’s another big factor in the Culture Wars, simply because all of the Platforms are acting as Campaign Politburos and Propaganda Advertising Firms for Democrats

  3. As a septuagenarian myself, I’d ask sincerely and honestly what should be done to “appeal to younger people”? Knowing what not to do is a good start — e.g., not waste money catering to people who are angry that their world is moving out from under them — but then, what else?

    I know you have opined about appealing to newer shooting sports, and that’s valid enough, but the shooting sports have always been evolving. I’m old enough to remember when silhouette shooting was the hot new fad, about the time Sebastian was a little kid. Now it’s old hat. Go back far enough, to WWI, there was a time when military style Hi-Power competition supplanted Scheutzen offhand competition with single-shot rifles. It is said that at one time Scheutzen was followed by the public the way baseball or football is today; while today it survives only in vestigial form, a very narrow special interest.

    I remember complaining in the late ’80s, that the American Rifleman treated militaria and “black guns” as if they didn’t exist; in terms of “what is interesting now” they were lagging badly. They caught up. Did it change the world?

    So I’m Just Asking the Question: Other than catching up on some current fads, what are shooters younger than me really looking for? Or more importantly, what are are potential shooters looking for, and what needs to be done not to drive them away?

    I’ll close on a deliberately cryptic note: I see the motivations of younger shooters being different from what motivations were when I was their age. But that’s a “cultural” thing I doubt we can do much about.

    1. You’re probably ahead of the game, because number one would be: don’t be racist, and don’t be homophobic. Avoid using pejoratives like dumbocrap, libtard, etc. For the most part the younger kids don’t like hurt feelings. People can scream “special snowflake” all they like, but there’s some decent truth to this generation having very thin skin.

      For NRA: stop trying to shift the blame from guns to video games. It makes you look old and out of touch. Most kids and young adults are playing video games and not turning into mass shooters.

      Also for NRA: Get back into promoting shooting as fun. Politics for someone in their late 20s or early 30s is not all that fun unless they are weirdos like I was.

      One more for NRA: Get younger spokespeople. The best they really did was Gen Xers. They wasted talented millennials like Colion Noir on NRATV.

      This could be a post maybe.

      1. I’d like to see a campaign or two along the lines of “You played the game? Now try the real thing!” and then have classes on historic firearms as they are related to certain video games.

        Encourage people to shoot genuine M1 Garands and 1911s, for example, to show how the weapons compare to the WWII edition of Call of Duty.

        In such classes, we could also introduce 3-gun style events, where a portion of a battle or war is vaguely imitated, and discuss how a *lot* of Olympic games (including javelin throws, archery, and pentathalon) have their origins in warfare. (The pentathalon is particularly fascinating, in which the five sports — horse riding, pistol shooting, running, swimming, and fencing — are combined to emulate escaping a POW camp!)

        I think tying shooting to gaming, history, and competition would go a long way towards introducing young people to shooting, and in a positive way, even if they ultimately decide not to pursue shooting as a hobby.

      2. Most kids and young adults are playing video games and not turning into mass shooters.

        That’s true. My oldest (under 30) has always and still does play the shooting games. He now works for Customs and Border Protection. Although he’s been shooting since he was 6 and hunting since 12 so he has no illusions about real firearms.

      3. I’ll second this. Stop trying to portray this as liberal vs conservative. Or even as our heritage. Present it as a means to protect human rights. Highlight the Koreans in the LA riots, for example. Pink Pistols is another. I don’t even want to hear that “it’s not your lifestyle” because protecting our Constitutional rights is not “a lifestyle”.

        It may be too late. We put all our chits in one pot, and Wayne’s taking that kitty to the grave, it looks like.

  4. “You’re probably ahead of the game, because number one would be: don’t be racist, and don’t be homophobic.”

    I could broaden that to, don’t be the negative stereotype our enemies paint us as being.

    A memory my son and I still share from time to time is, I started taking him to club meetings when he was about 14, and there was one night when it seemed everyone who opened their mouth was trying to be a bigger buffoon than the last guy. I forget what the issue was that someone was expounding on but, one guy said “and if we can’t find someone inept enough to do it, we’ll go out and find someone even more inept!” We had a hard time not guffawing at the time, and we still guffaw over it from time to time.

    I hesitated to tell that story because it makes us both sound like prigs, laughing over someone’s misspeaking, but it did reinforce the stereotype that Johnny Carson used to portray of gun club members being the Woolrich-clad bozos. My son didn’t go to many more meetings with me, though he did volunteer as a worker at matches for the other organization I ran matches for. But neither of my sons became gun-hobbyists. They respected it as “dad’s thing” but otherwise didn’t relate. I did my best but it didn’t take.

    1. I went off to do some chores, and reflected on why my kids didn’t become gun hobbyists, despite plenty of exposure and fun, I thought. Then I thought about how they had become fishermen, starting from my similar introduction. It occurred to me that fishing doesn’t entail identifying with any particular “culture”, other than perhaps “good sportsmanship.”

      But, it seems to me that was the way guns and shooting were, when I was a kid 60 years ago. You couldn’t guess much about a man based on that he was a “serious shooter”, except maybe that he could afford his guns and ammo.

      Now for some paranoia: You know my frequent lament that the “gun rights movement” has become everything but “single issue.” The appeal attempted by NRATV demonstrated that assumption put into practice. I have thought (known) for years that the gun issue was being expropriated for cynical political purposes, by people who otherwise cared not a whit about it. It was made part of the “culture wars” even though it hadn’t started out that way. When I was a kid a “serious shooter” was equally likely to be an FDR worshipper as a McCarthyite or Eisenhower/Nixon fanatic.

      Ever wonder why Obama didn’t quip about “angry people with their fishing rods and bibles? He knew he had been delivered a “culture” to work with.

      1. I think the issue had to become political, but we got to the point where we elevated that above everything else, and then got sucked into culture wars. Politics will attract charlatans, chest beaters, and people who yell at clouds. These days I think politics is downstream of a lot of other factors, and if you ignore those factors, politics won’t save you.

        1. “I think the issue had to become political”

          Well, I’ve thought about that too, and of course you are right; the anti-gun movement largely grew out of the assassinations of the 1960s.

          But as I’ve reminisced here before, I remember Guns & Ammo magazine kicking off a big “Support Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms!” campaign when I was still in high school, before even the JFK assassination; and I really don’t remember there being a serious anti-gun threat at the time. (I could be wrong, and I wish now I hadn’t given away my boxes of 1950s and 1960s American Rifleman magazines, or I would check; though the NRA didn’t spend much space on politics at the time. Their “A Court Case of Consequence” monthly feature was about it.)

          Speaking of “cultural changes”: In many ways the American Rifleman was a much “classier” publication in the 1950s and into the 1970s, than it became later; it really was “dumbed down” at some point. But that too could be classified as going for a more “populist” appeal.

          1. Try 1934 with the National Firearms act. Or you can go back to 1911 for the Sullivan Act in New York. Or back to Reconstruction. The Left never quits trying to disarm the normal people because it gets in their way to power.

            1. “Try 1934 with the National Firearms act.”

              Oh, I know there are innumerable examples in history. But no one agonizes over “ancient history,” and by 1960 no one was losing sleep over GCA ’34. (Of course, they should have, but I’m talking realpolitik here.)

              To make a personal example: I was well into adulthood when GCA ’68 came along. In the years since, when I’ve been fighting the gun rights fight but got to feeling down, I would think that no matter how well the current battle turned out, we were never getting back to the pre-’68 days I could remember, when my high school friends and I ordered guns through the mail. For the most part no one seemed to really even aspire to that.

              So, I’m thinking the same was true of GCA ’34. Twenty-five years later (1959) most gun rights advocates had ceased even thinking about it.

              (Some pre-’34 Oral History: My father had a story about how when he was a kid in the ’20s, he and some other kids had broken into an old garage in Philadelphia, and found it filled with WWI vintage machine guns, which of course were perfectly legal in those days. But since they had just broken into the garage out of curiosity, the kids played around with the guns a bit, yanking on their operating handles etc., then just went about their business.)

  5. 20th Century Gun Control was first intended to target Southern and Eastern European Immigrants, and that facet of it shouldn’t be overlooked.

    Those Immigrant Gropus were receptive to and supportive of Gun Ownership though, whereas today’s Immigrants either don’t care, or there is a noticeable and vocal minority that opposes it.

    Our side bears responsibility for what is going on in Virginia, and other States like Oregon, Colorado, and Washington State because we failed to properly message out to today’s Immigrants that Gun Control based Politics in this Country has a history of being used as a repressive tool to Immigrants of the past.

    Today’s Immigrants are, by majority, voting for a political vestige that is repressive to them, and harm them in the long term. Our side has been an abysmal failure at pointing this out.

    1. There are a lot of immigrants from Mexico, both legal and illegal, who are looking at our gun culture, and looking at what’s going on in their own country (with the gangs fighting local governments in broad daylight and even winning), and thinking “Hey, we should have this gun culture thing at home too!” I can’t help but wonder how this will work out over time.

      One sad but real possibility is that gun culture in Mexico can be restored while we lose ours here in America….

      1. “One sad but real possibility is that gun culture in Mexico can be restored while we lose ours here in America….”

        I don’t think there is any real chance of a legal gun culture being achieved by democratic processes in Mexico. It sounds like they have more of an operating “gun culture” right now, than we do. Unfortunately their gun culture now is defined by, whoever has de facto power thanks to having guns, wants to keep things that way and thereby keep the upper hand.

        An acquaintance of mine back in the ’90s had a story about being robbed at M16-point in the Mexican countryside by Mexican soldiers. And an Anglo close to me who speaks Mexican street-Spanish fluently has numerous stories of petty Mexican official corruption that he talked his way out of (or at least, got a discount on) thanks to his linguistic skills.

        But the point is, I can’t see a “gun culture” as we mean it, being the “gun culture” that would evolve in Mexico. I think we are more in danger of becoming as they are now (as our cultural institutions collapse and become unapologetically corrupt) than they are of becoming anything like us.

  6. Losing access to the schools for shooting programs was a BFD.

    Also, shooting stuff costs money. Millenials got off to a slow start job market wise, so expensive hobbies are already a stretch. The bureaucracy associated with buying a gun is also a big turn off for the instant order fulfillment streaming and amazon prime generation.

    NRA needs more fun, low cost events where you can show up with nothing but pants and a tshirt and shoot.

    Mobile airgun ranges for urban areas, bussing to get college kids to a fun shoot, etc.

    Instead the training division dabbled in an obscenely expensive and ineffective online pistol course, and competition division has allowed promising ideas like AR challenge and 3 Gun airsoft to die slow deaths of benign neglect.

  7. For years NRA has not at all played to their strengths. They trashed their own training programs for the Carry Guard debacle. They’ve deemphasized outreach to shooting communities and don’t focus on growing them.

    And they seemingly went all-in on supporting The President qua The President, not “he has been good for 2A rights”.

    (I unsubscribed from the NRA-ILA mailings because of that bullshit so IDK what their current position is.

    NRA needs to get competent at every level from mailings to internet presence* to get me to care again.)

    (* Maybe don’t have banner ads INSIDE YOUR EMAILS?)

  8. I grew up liberal, and afraid of guns. I decided to learn about them, and gun culture, because I did not want to argue what I knew on what I’d been taught to believe.

    I walked myself over. I had little help or encouragement even from gunnies (and it shows in my marksmanship). I lean libertarian these days, but I am galled by the NRA’s political lockstep with the GOP. I’ve donated to SAF and Calguns several times in the last year; I can’t see myself giving to, or joining the NRA at any point in the future, not without fundamental changes.

  9. A huge problem I’ve noticed is that the economy outside the cities has gone to shit in the past 30 years. I’m doing great financially but it means living in an area with no outdoor ranges and no backyard practice. Moving to an area where I could shoot conveniently would mean moving to an area with no good programming jobs.

    And I live in an area with numerous NFA dealers. Gun rights are strong here but the hobby is such a hassle. Going shooting is an all day event.

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