Reviews | How the AR-15 conquered America, as revealed by an industry insider

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As the country continues to absorb the horror of the murder of 19 children in Texas, public attention has refocused on the role AR-15-type weapons played in such massacres.

In addition to the killer of Uvaldethe young man who slaughtered 10 people in Buffalo used one. Just like Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two protesters in Wisconsin, for which he was acquitted.

But behind all these specific horrors lies an even bigger story. How did AR-15 variants come to occupy such a dominant position in our culture – and, increasingly, in our daily lives – in the first place?

The rise of weapons of the AR-15 type, which is a semi-automatic civilian version of a military weaponreflects a growing zeal, at least among a determined minority in some parts of the country, for the introduction of military-style equipment into civilian society.

In this respect, Daniel Défense, the company which manufactured the weapon used in Uvalde, really pushed the envelope. But it reflects a broader trend of “radicalization” in the industry, says Ryan Busse, a former firearms executive.

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Busse has carved out a niche argue from within that none of this was an accident. He says it’s the result of specific choices made by the industry, combined with cultural shifts that have created fertile conditions for this transformation.

The problem of gun violence goes far beyond mass shootings and assault rifles. Currently, senators are negotiate reforms this would hopefully remedy both the mass shootings and the daily gun murders and suicides.

Yet these reforms will be modest and incremental at best. And given that there are hundreds of millions of firearms in circulation in the United States, it is extremely disturbing to consider how vast and intractable the problem of gun violence will likely remain for the foreseeable future.

I spoke to Busse about all these questions. An edited and condensed version of our conversation follows.

Greg Sargent: Salvador Ramos was reportedly a fan of the “Call of Duty” video game. Can you explain how the gun industry used video games and other similar tactics to try to boost sales of weapons like AR-15 style rifles?

Ryan Bussé: Twenty years ago everyone thought the industry was dying. Every marketer in the industry has looked around with some trepidation as to how to achieve new market share.

Probably in the mid to late 2000s you start to see the rise of first person shooters, following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There’s been a lot of talk in marketing planning meetings about how you might place your gun model in a movie or video game. This represented a solution to the problem, which was: how to attract a new market segment away from this aging and older market segment that is not growing?

There was a young demographic associated with first-person video games and action movies.

Sargent: It is interesting that you mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as galvanizing this new wave of interest in this type of weaponry. How important were wars – the imagery of returning wars, the war on terror and the Islamophobia that runs through it all – in this cultural tidal wave?

Bus : Very important. I think that sowed everything.

Prior to approximately 2010 or 2012, there had never been a firearm sold in the United States commercial market that was desert beige in color. Today, a significant percentage of firearms are sold in desert tan color. Why? Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sargent: The company that made the shooter’s weapon, Daniel Defense, is at the forefront of this type of aggressive marketing. What is the scope of what they do in the whole industry?

Bus : The Daniel Defense story that burst onto the market is a case study in how the gun industry has radicalized and changed. All AR-15s built are pretty much the same gun. About 500 companies build them today. Twenty years ago there were one or two, and they were on the fringes of the commercial market.

Around 1999, during the Columbine shootings, the NRA set its political course: We’re in the culture war business.

Then you have wars, AR-15s, patriotism, Islamophobia – all of this is happening in the culture at the same time.

The gun industry has become like a badly gerrymandered congressional district. He only had one incentive to go one way. Everything pulls him to the right.

Sargent: What intrigues me is the intense symbolic importance that these AR-15 type guns have taken on. Across blue America, the feeling has intensified that assault weapons have no place in civil society.

Yet in pro-gun America, that very fact – that it elicits such intense opposition – has itself become almost a point of prideful defiance.

Bus : It’s a major.

Sargent: For the right, living in a society that refrains from collective action to limit easy access to such firepower has taken on a kind of higher meaning.

Bus : I live in red America. If I drive the streets I’m on, almost every vehicle that has the Trump message somewhere on it also has some sort of AR-15 sticker on the back.

People who marched in the Michigan Capitol had AR-15s. On January 6, there were Trump’s political flags – and then there were AR-15 flags to take away.

Sargent: This weapon has become a sort of symbolic test indicating the type of society we want. What that middle finger is saying is, “You can take your civil society and shake it up.

Bus : Nothing conveys dominance and intimidation quite like a loaded AR-15. It was designed to be offensive in times of war. It was designed to take people’s lives.

Sargent: You are positioning the cultural mania around the AR-15 as an aberration or a malignity, compared to what surely are millions and millions of gun owners who have a much healthier attitude towards their hobby .

Bus : That’s how people use the gun. That’s what the gun has become.

I think the authoritarian forces in this country regard the AR-15 as a central symbol of organization.

Sargent: You often see advocacy for the AR-15 of the same right-wing influencers – Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump Jr., Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), etc.

Why do those who traffic in apocalyptic fantasies about demographic fate also tend to treat the AR-15 as something of almost mythical symbolic importance?

Bus : The idea of ​​a civil/race war with heavily armed citizen-patriots as your warriors is no longer under the surface.

I won’t go so far as to say they really want people to die in a race war. It is a political tool for them. They think they can use it to motivate – and make people angry, fearful and hateful.

Sargent: Let’s talk about the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. What fundamentally changed after the ban expired?

Bus : The social stigma of AR-15s has been removed. Then 11 months later, Bush signed the Lawful Arms Trade Protection Act. This basically says no firearms company or retailer can be sued for the illegal actions of a consumer using the product, even if they market it irresponsibly.

Now the Daniel Defenses of the world are stepping back and basically saying, “We have 500 competitors, so we have to be really bold in marketing. They just passed this law where we are not even held accountable if we market in a way that seems egregious. Then the course was set.

Sargent: Arms manufacturers could market these products directly to an entire generation of people who lived in a society transformed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bus : Then, as the competition got more and more competitive, they put the guns in video games. Put the guns in the movies. Calling firearms ever more offensive names. There is an AR-15 called the “Super urban sniper.” How much more suggestive can you get than that?

Sargent: What does a real policy response commensurate with the problem look like? Are we doomed to be a heavily armed society for the foreseeable future?

Bus : Rittenhouse, Buffalo, Uvalde – these things are warnings of what is to come. You can’t put 450 million guns in a complex society — with lots of mental illness, and shutdowns and anxieties, and Donald Trump and insurgencies — and not think you’re going to get this.

I don’t believe there is a way to resolve the crisis. We have to start making decisions that make it slightly better instead of slightly worse.

That kid in Uvalde – if we had a 21-year-old gun requirement in Texas, would the kid have gotten a gun? He might have. But that would have been more difficult.

Why don’t we have policies that make it harder, instead of continuing to make it easier?

We still have cigarettes. We still have lung cancer. We still have chain smoking. But we have less now. We made some decisions to improve things slightly. We could do that with weapons.

Sargent: It seems that our best hope is to gradually ease a situation that seems to be heading for absolute disaster.

Bus : Yes. And I think we’re headed for absolute disaster.

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