I was invited to appear on CNN back in 2013 as my alter-ego, a “popular mommy blogger” for my blog, Bitch’in Suburbia. At the time, there was a horrific news story that was capturing the public’s attention: a 5-year- old Kentucky boy accidentally shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with his own bright blue “My Little Rifle” — a starter firearm for children — after mistaking it for a toy gun.
Here is the piece on CNN, where I debated a fellow mommy blogger, Trisha Haas.
My position, if you couldn’t exactly tell, was that the marketer of this gun, Keystone Sporting Arms, was not to blame for this terrible tragedy. The original guest, my friend and popular blogger, Jessica Gottlieb, would’ve argued this point brilliantly: she owns a gun, is a parent, and is also one of the brightest people I know. She is not buying pink guns for her daughter, but she is also not buying that the marketer is to blame in this tragic incident.
Neither do I, by the way. But I came from a different perspective: I don’t own a gun, but I am a marketing professional. And in my day I’ve had to market some pretty controversial products myself — like the time I had to put together a video box set of A&E programming for their #1 viewed Biography programs.
The set was to include fan favorites like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. I know, that sounds more like a Lifetime “Television for Women” round-up, right? (And isn’t it weird that it does? Why is violent and tragic storytelling so appealing to women? Now that’s a question and a blog post for another day!)
At the time I was putting together the marketing plan for this video set, I was pregnant. As I watched the shows, I felt my baby kick, and I worried about who the hell was buying this product. What kind of parent would purchase it, watch it, and display it proudly in their entertainment collection?
I was troubled, but I wasn’t the decider here. A gigantic wholesale club was standing by to order the stuff in bulk, and money talks. Plus the programming was on the air for free, and plenty of people were watching those shows in the privacy of their own homes.
That wasn’t my business anyway: selling product was.
Lucky for me, my conscious, and all of us frankly, the product never came to fruition. The execs at A&E pulled the plug, and the retailer had lost interest anyways.
If you haven’t see how “My Little Rifle” was marketed, you can check it out here on Mother Jones. They were one of the only media outlets smart enough to do screen grabs of the product that killed the little girl in Kentucky. (Note to journalists: don’t use live links to make your story: smart marketers will take down websites that showcase products that are under fire. Pun intended!)
I personally had no idea that there were companies out there that make and market guns for children. But you know what? I’m not their target audience.
But I am an American who values all of my constitutionally ensured freedoms, like Freedom of Speech (that’s the marketer’s lil’ darlin’), and amendments I’m less comfortable with — like the Right to Bear Arms — as these are all the law of the land.
So I say, let the marketers market. Lady Karma will always be there for the M.O.D. Squad (“Merchants of Death” — those who market cigarettes, booze, and firearms — a coin termed in the brilliant Christopher Buckley in his novel, Thank You For Smoking, and the movie by the same name).
And you, parents, BE THE PARENT! You brought your children into the world, now take good care that the future generation actually has a future.
If I could bottle and sell intelligence, I would. I’m imagining I’d make a fortune, but then again, maybe not everyone wants it. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.
Lord knows if intelligence were a bill, it would die in Congress.
In the same week the tragedy took place in Kentucky, there were many other incidents in this country where a child shot another child. They didn’t make national news because they didn’t have such a catchy hook as involving a gun marketed specifically to children.
But these incidents had one thing in common: they were all accidents. Preventable accidents.
And the aftermaths have everything in common. Devastated families, traumatized surviving children, and all around heartsick compassion for such unnecessary loss.
Cut to today, where gun laws really haven’t change, despite the fact that the specter of preventable gun-related deaths of kids, often perpetrated by kids, continues to haunt us.
Still I still can’t say that I think taking aim at marketers is a clean or even justified shot.
But I do believe that parents who make bad choices, like buying live firearms that look like toys for their children, are fair game.
A version of this blog originally appeared on Bitch’in Suburbia, on May 6, 2013.