The NRA Is Coming for Your Toddler

The powerful gun lobby reimagines fairy tales with kids locked and loaded

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Mar 28, 2016 at 5:54 PM ET

Did you ever wonder what your favorite fairy tales would be like, if the young protagonists had been packing heat? Well, you’re in luck: in the National Rifle Association’s new set of reimagined childhood classics—Hansel and Gretel (Have Guns) and Little Red Riding Hood (Has a Gun)kids save themselves, and the day, with firearms.

The stories are the latest—and strangest—in a long line of NRA marketing efforts, aimed at your toddler.

“Before long, they heard a rustling in the leaves, and slowly turned to see a magnificent 10-point buck drinking from a stream,” reads the NRA rewrite of Hansel and Gretel, posted on its website on March 17. The siblings have been dropped off in the woods because the family has fallen on hard times, only this time, they’re prepared. “Gretel readied her rifle and fired,” it continues. “Her training had paid off, for she was able to bring the buck down instantly with a single shot.”

Because the siblings “had been taught how safely to use a gun and had been hunting with their parents most of their lives,” they were no longer helpless victims at the mercy of a tough economy, the woods, or evil witches. Instead, they escape ruin and procure enough food to get the village through the winter to boot.

In Little Red Riding Hood (Has a Gun), Red was recently given “her very own rifle and lessons on how to use it—just in case—to be sure that she would always be safe,” the story reads. When the wolf stalks her through the woods, she pulls a gun on him and scares him off. When the wolf shows up at grandma’s house, he’s in for another big surprise. “The wolf leaned in, jaws open wide, then stopped suddenly,” the tale goes. “Those big ears heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun’s safety being clicked off.”

The stories are the latest salvo in the organization’s outreach aimed directly at young children; an animated eagle named Eddie appeared on the scene in 1988. But, Eddie was trying to teach kids about gun safety—if you come across a gun, run away, and so on. Hansel and heat-packing Gretel seem more into teaching kids that guns are awesome.

“This is absolutely trying to indoctrinate kids,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Boston nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which aims to “reclaim childhood from corporate marketers.”

Most fairy tales are read to children as early as 2 and 3 years old. “Clearly that age group of children is incredibly vulnerable to advertising,” Golin said. “They don’t understand advertising’s persuasive intent—even if it’s not disguised as a fairy tale—until they get to be 8 or 10 years old. So any kind of advertising regardless of the product, is inherently unfair and manipulative at that age.”

Golin says the content here is particularly problematic. “The NRA argument would be I guess that guns are not harmful to children, which from my perspective is an outrageous argument. But any time you’re trying to brand a child to identify with or want a product that is such a dangerous product seems particularly egregious to me.”

Take a corollary like fast-food giant McDonalds, Golin says. “If we’re talking about McDonald’s and a more typical product marketed to children than guns, it’s not just because they want 3- and 4-year-olds to nag their parents for a trip to McDonald’s. They want the kid to form a positive association with McDonald’s. They know that if they get to them in preschool, they’re more likely to have a lifelong customer.

“They may not think a 3- or 4-year-old is going to [hear the fairy tale and] say ‘Mommy and Daddy I want a gun,’ but the idea is to get kids thinking favorably about guns as a way of responding to danger, and that’s certainly a way to indoctrinate.”

The first overhauled NRA fairytale appeared in mid-January, coincidentally, two weeks after gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety released a report that in the United States, toddlers were responsible for some 265 accidental shootings in 2015 alone, or about five accidental shootings a week (83 of those ended in death). The report is the first of its kind to tally precisely these numbers. “This is the first attempt at making an account at this scale and this degree, and we as an organization started doing it this year,” Ted Alcorn, Everytown’s research director, told the Washington Post.

That breaks down to about 148 shootings at home, 31 at a friend’s house, and 28 at a family member’s home.

At the time, Alcorn told the Post the 265 deaths were an undercount still waiting on some additional deaths for the year that were pending investigation. This updated chart reflects the full 278 deaths for the year:

Though the fairy tales reimagine children as empowered by guns, reality tells a much different narrative. Recently, a gun rights’ advocate who often posted pictures online with a rifle was shot by her 4-year-old in the back when he grabbed the unattended gun in her car. In Georgia, a 2-year-old found a handgun in his mother’s purse and accidentally shot himself. Everytown’s numbers reflect this reality, that largely, the shooters are very young kids who find unsecured guns and fire them by accident. These statistics challenge the oft-employed gun rights argument that good, armed citizens make us all inherently safer in an increasingly unsafe world. A recent study found that the good guy, or in this case, kid, with a gun narrative is simply not true. “…for every 1 percent increase in gun ownership, there was a 1.1 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate and a 0.7 percent increase in the total homicide rate,” Slate wrote of the findings. Furthermore, they write, studies put the actual risk of death from home invasion at 0.0001. Other statistics show a American child has died every other day from gun violence since the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012.

A analysis by nonprofit gun control advocates the Violence Policy Center found that firearms industry is targeting kids more directly than ever, making compact kid-friendly rifles with bright colors and “child-specific designs” to get grade-school kids in on the action, in part their response to declining gun ownership. The NRA Family site routinely posts photos of kids as young as seven months old getting their first gun.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the “best preventive measure against firearm injuries and deaths is not to own a gun.” Still, the author of the NRA fairy tales, Amelia Hamilton, promotes her work with the mythical argument that guns make us safer:

Golin says that simply doesn’t justify pushing something so dangerous on a vulnerable population. “I can be in favor of the responsible use of alcohol, but that doesn’t mean we want to market it to young children,” he said. “That’s such a disingenuous argument.” One that is, at best, only true in fairy tales.