Big news from the gun world–not the world of people who so loudly insist they will no longer be targets, but from the world of the manufacturers–Remington has filed for bankruptcy. They don’t plan to dissolve, just reorganize. The implications for the NRA’s future political strategy are intriguing.
Gun sales are down, and they have been down since the 2016 election. Remington and other manufacturers massively overproduced before the election in expectation of huge sales after the election, huge sales that didn’t happen. So they were stuck with debt, excess inventory, and a slumping market.
They had expected Clinton to win the presidency. Then, the NRA leadership, in its role as an advocacy arm of the gun industry, would work its marketing magic, scaring insecure and easily-frightened people into thinking someone would take their guns away. It had worked beautifully after Obama’s elections to drive up sales, so it ought to have worked after Clinton’s.
Fear of liberals in power can drive up gun sales several ways, from the fairly rational to the totally wacko. Somebody who likes guns, who appreciates and enjoys the projection of inordinate force (shooting things up for fun–which I am not, by the way, knocking) may buy now a weapon that may become illegal to purchase later: better to access that range of pleasure while one can before the law forecloses it. Another motive: buy an AR as an act of solidarity with a principle and a cause that one believes in, a principle and cause believed to be under threat. I can appreciate that one. It was one of my motives for buying a copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses when Rushdie was in hiding and under threat of death for writing that book; it was my meager stand for freedom of expression. Fanatically extreme devotion to the Second Amendment puzzles me, but I try to remember that my devotion to First Amendment principles puzzles some people, too.
Now into motives and fears with which I can’t feel any imaginative sympathy. Some are persuaded that liberals want to take away their guns because they are too naïve to recognize the threat of criminal hoards who will sweep across the nation if good guys with guns are not there to protect us all. Naïve? Ha! Liberals actually welcome that anarchy! Or no, they are dupes of dark and powerful forces that want to disarm and dominate us all. Yeah, that’s it. They’ll take away our guns, and then they’ll crush us all under the boot heel of tyranny. Hillary’s going to take away our guns and set up a feminist dictatorship! My AR-15 is all that stands between freedom and Stalin! That’s why they want to take it away! (Freedom to do what?) Freedom to own guns, you fool!–Forgive me. I find it hard to take these Red Dawn fantasies seriously, but they do motivate a hard lunatic core who hand a lot of money over to the gun makers.
After Trump’s election, the gun makers had a problem. Republicans sympathetic to their industry controlled every branch of government. Fear of imminent bans, restrictions, or confiscations could not plausibly motivate sales. Who would believe Trump, Ryan, or McConnell would back any serious gun control policies? Gun lovers could relax. They could always put off that high-dollar purchase till later. And the nuts would not feel so much a need to protect themselves from a government from which they no longer felt quite so alienated.
The NRA (and through them, the manufacturers) backed Trump because he supported them and shared the bellicosity essential to their marketing plan. But they expected him to lose. And then a Clinton presidency would boost anxiety-based sales. They miscalculated.
These are smart, cynical, ruthless, unprincipled people. They are not likely to make that mistake again. They make money by presenting themselves as the opponents of liberals in power. Liberals out of power don’t make them money.
It is in the interest of the firearms industry, therefore, to see Democrats win elections, but the industry itself must also be perceived as in opposition to the Democrats. There’s a danger, of course, that liberals might actually enact legislation that would, once again, ban assault weapons or some other profitable product line.
For gun makers, therefore, the ideal outcome of the 2018 election would be for Democrats to win one or more houses of Congress and to push for gun control. The NRA could rale furiously against that legislation and scare the hell out of their constituency, thus driving up sales. And Trump could veto anything that manages to pass, thus preserving revenue streams.
How to help the Democrats win without seeming to? That’s the subtle game the NRA needs to think through. They need to motivate their base, but make sure that a lot more other people vote against them. I’m not savvy enough to know how they might do that, but I’m sure it would be done so far behind the scenes that it would never be visible.
So if the Democrats win this fall, cynical thugs on the far right may have helped.