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Newtown Activists Issue Call For Change As Gun Industry Trade Show Opens

By Jenny Wilson, Hartford Courant. Newtown gun control advocates gathered Monday in front of National Shooting Sports Foundation headquarters and called on the ...

By Jenny Wilson, Hartford Courant.

Newtown gun control advocates gathered Monday in front of National Shooting Sports Foundation headquarters and called on the gun industry to change its marketing practices, reigniting a polarizing debate the day before the annual firearm industry trade show opens in Las Vegas.

The activists called on Newtown-based NSSF to stop marketing military-style assault weapons, to stop marketing guns to children and to support stronger background check requirements on gun sales, a measure that failed to gain passage in the U.S. Senate last April.

They held a press conference across the street from the old, white Colonial-style building that houses the gun industry’s trade association – just a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 first-graders and six adults were shot and killed in Dec. 2012.

Members of a national gun control group organized a similar event in Las Vegas Monday, drawing political lines as gun enthusiasts flock to the city for the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show and Conference, which runs Tuesday through Friday. Sponsored by the NSSF and billed as the largest trade show of its kind worldwide, the event features 1,600 exhibitors and is expected to draw tens of thousands of industry members.

“The gun industry is a business and they have every right to sell their products, but just like any other industry there are responsibilities that come with that. Until they become a constructive member in helping to promote gun violence prevention, we are calling on people to not put their money into the industry,” said David Stowe, vice-chairman of Newtown Action Alliance, a grassroots group founded in the weeks after the Newtown massacre whose mission is to promote measures that reduce gun violence.

Backed by dozens of activists who attended the press conference, Stowe criticized the gun industry’s “increasingly aggressive marketing efforts” used to “advertise and glorify” military-style assault weapons.

“In a shift from their origins as promoter of tools for personal protection and hunting, more and more the industry appears to be selling dangerous military fantasies in an effort to maximize profits at all costs, regardless of devastating consequences,” Stowe said.

State Representative Kim Fawcett, a Democrat from Fairfield who voted for the sweeping gun control package that cleared the legislature last spring, criticized the industry for its marketing materials, which she said are aimed at children.

“When you use colors or visuals in your marketing materials that are almost identical to the same visuals used to market highly violent video games…you’re indicating that you intend to market to our kids,” Fawcett said, mentioning the Call of Duty action series, a video game that gunman Adam Lanza played.

NSSF responded to the activists’ charges by highlighting steps it has taken to promote public safety, including a Project ChildSafe initiative they launched in Las Vegas prior to the SHOT Show. The initiative promotes safe gun handling and storage by partnering with law enforcement agencies to distribute firearm safety kits.

In a statement released Monday, NSFF described the accusations as a “purposeful mischaracterization of our trade association.”

“Our members do not sell ‘assault weapons’ to the American public,” NSSF said.  “Calling semiautomatic rifles that resemble, but are not military firearms, is purposely misleading and intended to confuse the public,” NSSF said in the release.

Monday’s event seemed to illustrate the deep divisions that created national gridlock over guns, featuring a heated exchange between a gun control advocate and a couple of counter-protestors who attended the press conference to support NSSF.

The leader of a group that lobbied aggressively for last year’s changes to state gun laws said significant progress has been made since Newtown despite the divisive politics of the issue. Ron Pinciaro, the Executive Director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said the 72 gun homicides in Connecticut last year was the state’s lowest since 2005. With new laws on the books in Connecticut but a bleak forecast for federal gun control, Pinciaro said his group has turned its focus to state-by-state changes.

“If you try to pass the law at the federal level now, that couldn’t happen,” said Pinciaro, who is working on putting together a coalition of northeast states to “build a northeast firewall.” Advocates hope that state-by-state progress eventually will lead to the national legislation that a year ago seemed inevitable.