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Study finds gun makers lure women to buy, but women say they have good reasons

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Gun manufacturers are increasingly attempting to court women as firearm owners, which has resulted in increased sales, according to a new study by Oregon State University researchers.

Women’s gun ownership in the United States increased from 16% to 22%, while men’s gun ownership remained consistent at roughly 43%, according to the report. More than half of new gun owners in the country between 2019 and 2021 were women.

“Those trends in gun ownership seem at odds with polling that indicates women much more strongly favor gun control than men. How can women who are typically more in favor of gun control than men be buying guns at these rates?” Michelle Barnhart, an associate professor at OSU’s College of Business, said in the report. “One thing that has changed during this period is gun manufacturers’ marketing strategy. These changes give us insights into how the industry has become more successful in attracting women in recent years.”

Women interviewed by The Center Square disagreed that marketing drove their purchases. “Women know they can be victims, but they can also be aware and get training to protect themselves, and they can find the right firearm that works for them, said Jane Milhans, a Washington state firearms instructor.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Macromarketing, examined 20 years of gun advertising. Other co-authors of the study included Aimee Huff, associate professor at the OSU College of Business, and Brett Burkhardt, associate professor of sociology at OSU’s School of Public Policy.

“Generally, representative imagery in advertising can encourage changes in behavior,” the report said. “Gun advertising is unique compared to other consumer products, however, because primary advertising channels are unlikely to accept gun-related advertising, and many have policies prohibiting it.”

Guns & Ammo Magazine, one of the largest gun magazines in the United States, is a place that publishes many gun advertisements.

Researchers looked at over 20 years of the magazine’s content and noticed how gun advertising changed over the years.

Notably, researchers found that from 2001 to 2007, almost no gun ads featured women. From 2008 to 2012, the ads portrayed women “as sexy, and the ads more likely targeted men who might purchase guns for their wives or girlfriends,” the report said.

However, from 2013 to 2015, advertisers used many different approaches. These included “a few sexy ads and more that framed women gun owners as confident, empowered and feminine,” the report said.

From 2016 to 2020, the advertising strategy shifted. Women started appearing in serious gun ads, and the hints of femininity were more subtle.

“These more recent ads depict armed women as responsible, capable, well-trained and able to use their guns for serious purposes such as self-defense or protecting their children, the researchers found,” the report said.

The “serious student” framing was used in nearly half of the ads between 2016 and 2020 that were studied.

It showed armed women pursuing gun expertise via focused training; it also showed them using guns in practical ways.

“The analysis shows that gun manufacturers have tried a variety of approaches over time and moved away from some, and now they seem to have found this effective framing that supports women owning guns,” Barnhart said in the report. “The person in the picture looks like someone who should be able to have a gun even under additional gun control measures, such as training requirements. It allows women to be both in favor of gun control and also see themselves as gun owners.”

The findings indicate that gun manufacturers have tapped into a new customer base, which could make the partisan voting patterns of gun owners less consistent.

“New gun owners, and particularly women gun owners, may not conform to existing ideology and politics around gun ownership or gun control, and could reshape the identity of gun ownership in ways that aren’t expected,” Burkhardt said in the report.

In recent years, gun manufacturers have used gunfluencers, primarily female social media influencers, to promote gun ownership.

“The use of print advertising, coupled with the rise of ‘gunfluencers,’ are working together to promote and normalize gun ownership among women,” Huff said in the report.

Amara Barnes, founder of the Women Gun Owners Association of America, told The Center Square that it’s not merely advertising that has more women purchasing firearms.

“There are many reasons for the recent increase in female gun ownership in America, but what the WGOAA (Women Gun Owners Association of America) has noticed is that it is a combination of civil unrest and increased crime coupled with the realization that we may need to be our own first responders,” Barnes told The Center Square in an email. “Women are stepping into their power like never before. We don’t like what is happening within our communities, and it is our responsibility to speak up, to show up, and to protect our families.”

“Women who support the Second Amendment have historically been under-represented as they are a part of the silent majority,” she added. “They have been able to support the Second Amendment through their male counterparts without purchasing their own firearm. However, things have changed, and women who fall into this category are realizing that in order to make a difference, they need to step up and get loud. And part of that is to do the scary thing and become the armed and trained female patriot that you are seeing emerge today.”

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