Gunmakers questioned on marketing to the young

Hartford - At a second informational hearing for the legislature's Gun Violence Prevention Working Group on Monday, legislators questioned gun manufacturers about marketing to youth and said there was growing consensus to improve background checks.

"I think this is the area where there is the most common ground between both sides of the issue. I also think it is something that is an area that can be improved very quickly because technology has accelerated," said state Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Riverside.

During the hearing, Lawrence G. Keane, National Shooting Sports Foundation vice president and general counsel, said firearms should be locked away from children but that youth should be allowed to shoot firearms with adult supervision. He and gun manufacturers also told legislators that the current firearms background check system was dysfunctional.

Keane said he supported improved background checks although he wasn't sure that the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) could support such an increase.

For example, requiring someone who sells an AR-15 or long gun to another individual, outside of a retail store, to have a background check, would significantly add to NICS, he said.

NICS is not even properly managed today, he added.

"Many states have done a very, very poor job. … They are not transferring the records of prohibitions; mental health, felons, people with restraining orders who are prohibited, fugitives of justice, etc. … Those records are not being put into the NICS system," Keane said.

Connecticut is actually one of the states that are doing a good job, but about half of the states in the U.S. are doing a poor job of entering data, he said.

The NSSF would like the federal government to require states to update their records in the NICS when they receive federal funding. Last fiscal year about $5 million was approved federally for states to enter data into NICS, he said. That wasn't enough money and the data entry hasn't been done, he said.

At the start of the meeting, Keane said NSSF had a Project ChildSafe program, which worked with local law enforcement to distribute free gun locks and educate gun owners about the importance of making firearms inaccessible to "unauthorized" individuals, which included children.

"Had the firearms been inaccessible to Adam Lanza this tragedy might not have happened," he said.

But at the same time the organization and gun manufacturers were asked to defend what looked like marketing to youth.

State Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, asked the gun manufactures to react to a New York Times article titled "Selling a New Generation on Guns," which was about the industry's effort to market military-style rifles to "junior shooters."

Keane said the industry was "very disappointed by the tone of the article" and that youth shooting programs such as ones through the Boy Scouts or 4-H are adult-supervised.

"Children can't buy firearms so what would be the point of marketing to children," Keane said.

At that point Hartley held up an ad that read, "Make dad jealous," and said it was clearly targeting youth.

Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel for Mossberg & Sons, told The Day, "I think we have to be very careful, the distinction between responsible use, family-oriented, responsible hunting and shooting and the so called violence with youth meaning frankly criminals. There is a big difference."

It is best for the parent to decide whether the child can operate a firearm, he said.

"I don't know what Adam Lanza did or how he acted with his parents or his mother; why she decided it was a good opportunity for him to go shooting," Bartozzi said. … "What I can say with my own experience, with my own children, is it has been overwhelmingly positive."

Connecticut is not a rural state anymore, but beyond Connecticut there is a big market for people who want their children to learn how to shoot and hunt, he said.

"We, as responsible firearm manufacture, react to the market," Bartozzi said.

j.somers@theday.com

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