By Christian Matheis (October 5, 2015)
“He patted the thing he wore on his belt, a metal object like a deformed penis, and looked patronizingly at the unarmed woman. She gave the phallic object, which she knew was a weapon, a cold glance.” The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
Following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 1st, 2015, the 45th mass shooting in the United States this year, it seems odd to me that we so rarely find the names of gun and ammunition manufacturers mentioned in popular media coverage of such events.
How many of the following corporations appear explicitly named, consistently, in major media coverage of events in which weapons they and/or competitor companies produced played a part?
(in no particular order)
- Sturm, Ruger, & Company, Inc.
- Smith & Wesson Corp.
- Remington Arms Co., Inc.
- Maverick Arms, Inc.
- Heritage, Mfg.
- Savage Arms
- BIG SAUER
When technological instruments, such as medicines, aircraft, automobiles, etc., play a direct role in human deaths, whether by intent or accident, news/media coverage often includes the names of corporations like Boeing, General Motors, Bristol-Myers Squibb, BP, Shell Oil, etc. In many cases when news/media sources name the manufacturers, they do so to open questions about the potential or actual liability bearing upon the owners and operators of those companies for deaths and harms caused by the instruments, technologies, craft, etc.
Note, for the sake of a loose comparison, that the Centers for Disease Control dedicates attention to what they call “Injury Prevention & Control: Prescription Drug Overdose” without mentioning the names of pharmaceutical manufacturing companies that, like other for-profit big enterprises, set their sites on one thing: profits first. Even amid many recent and on-going lawsuits and attempts by corporations to end citizen rights to sue for damages done by certain legalized prescription drugs, pharmaceutical companies escape a good deal of scrutiny in government, non-profit, and news/media attention on things like “drug overdoses.” The message, it seems, goes something like this: broken individuals with addictions overdose on drugs because of their inherent flaws or life-choices, and it probably has little or nothing to do with mass-marketing and mass-distribution of pharmaceutical medications, so no need to name the companies profiting from the pharmaceutical technologies.
Similar to the story of big-pharma, perhaps we are to also believe something like this: broken individuals with [mental illness] [conduct mass shootings] because of their inherent flaws or life-choices, and it probably has little or nothing to do with mass-marketing and mass-distribution of [guns and ammunitions], so no need to name the companies profiting from the [weapons/arms] technologies.
As it turns out, gun and ammunition manufacturers are facing declining sales and falling profits, even bankruptcy, at least within the United States. Perhaps they hope to keep media attention off of the fact that few people, and fewer than in the past, even want more guns despite what sometimes seems the opposite in the way news/media portrayals hint, falsely, at rising obsessions over gun ownership and stockpiling among so-called “gun enthusiasts.”
Who can we trust as reliable researchers and journalists in these discussions?
Even if I have over-stated the case in some ways, the rarity of naming weapons manufacturers — that most people I know can only name a few of the dozens of such companies in the U.S. and the hundreds worldwide — should at least raise questions.
The deliberate or accidental omission of the names of corporations that manufacture guns and ammunition may bolster their marketing strategies. By saying “guns” in general versus “Ruger” or “Remington,” specifically, news/media reporting glosses over the macro-level culpability of arms manufacturers in the growing trend of appealing to, and profiting from arbitrary media portrayals of rising “gun enthusiasm” – and they do so despite the evidence of what may be the actual situation – rising levels of gun skepticism, gun refusal, gun exclusion, and peaceful anti-weapons sentiments among most of the general public.
Suppose that only a very small percentage of people in the United States feel any sort of genuine “enthusiasm” about guns.
Why do major news/media outlets omit mention of gun manufacturers, other than casual listing of types of firearms, and who benefits from the gloss over the names of private companies involved in weapons profiteering?
If news/media consistently name the brands of guns used in mass shootings and other violent crimes, perhaps the weapons profiteers will come to public account for the role their marketing and distribution plans play in fostering violence – not necessarily the primary or only role, but definitely some part of the bigger pattern of increasingly violent mass killings.
How have companies that not only make and sell firearms – many by appealing to “freedom” in order to implicitly and explicitly stoke notions of nationalism, aggression, fear, racism, and paranoia – carefully avoided the news/media spotlight?
How might public discussion about private weapon ownership, “gun enthusiasm,” and mass shootings shift by bringing the names of gun/ammunition manufacturers into new/media conversations more consistently as key actors in the complex dynamic?