Millennial Gun Culture: From Special Ops to Gun Bunnies, Reliable Technology is King

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From coffee to skateboarding to working out, firearms can be blended in with so many everyday activities, and millennial gun influencers are making an art of this. From gun bunnies to tier one special ops military vets moonlighting as clothing designers, the millennial age delivers the second amendment in a variety of forms. And it makes sense why gun companies should look to millennials when marketing their latest technology: this generation makes up close to three-quarters of the military,1 they are the majority of homebuyers in the current market,and many millennials also recently became first-time gun owners.3 And since this generation is more tech-savvy that past generations, it’s a good thing that gun companies like Adams Arms are keeping up the pace with the products they offer to millennial gun owners.

 

Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history, and they are known for certain characteristics, such as need for recognition, diversity, desire to serve others and excellent teamwork skills. In an article published in the Army University Press Military Review in 2019, one of the findings from the research done was that millennials tend to prefer interactive and engaging learning materials that are visually appealing.4 And these are the attributes that describe the current gun culture that is heavily composed of millennials.

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Millennials Leverage Modern Day Military Expertise

 

Millennials make up a large part of currently enlisted military personnel: as of 2015, millennials made up 72 percent of active duty members,5 and as of 2017 there were millennials retiring with 20 years of military service. In February 2019, millennials made up 82 percent of the U.S. Army.6 So many of these millennials are currently serving in the military, or getting out of the military and becoming an influencer or participant in gun culture. And even if they have no military experience and aren’t gun culture fanatics, per se, these millennial gun owners still have a finer taste for the latest technology, along with the money it requires to purchase this equipment. “For me I’d rather spend the extra money and get something quality as far as build materials and just overall manufacturing quality, for example if I’m looking at an [AR-15 rifle],” says AJ Gardipee, a 31-year-old millennial gun owner from Lexington, South Carolina. “I look at fit and finish, quality of manufacturing and I also like to look at the brand.”

 

Millennials Gun Acquisition Parallels Their Large Share in Home Purchasing and Retail Markets

 

Adams Arms is one of these brands that says their consumer sales numbers support a growing number of millennial gun owners and they are the second highest consumer buying demographic purchasing their AR-15s behind women. Why is this? First, economics plays a huge role. Millennials are the biggest buying segment in America. According to Bloomberg.com, this generation is wealthier than previous generations,7 though they have had to make different choices along the way that may have affected their net worth, such as investing more in their retirement and accruing more student loan debt. And while Generation Z is gaining momentum, millennials are still the biggest consumer demographic for retailers,8 making up 34.7 percent of online shoppers in America in 2020, according to Financesonline.9 The majority of individuals buying homes since 2014 have been millennials, and then National Association of Realtors recently reported that 43 percent of homebuyers in 2021 were millennials.10

 

The Stats on First-Time Gun Buyers

 

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), at least 40 percent of gun sales in 2020 were made by first-time gun buyers. For these first-time gun buyers, the semiautomatic handgun was most popular, beating out the shotgun, which was the second favorite, by a two-to-one margin.11 The Guardian also referenced a study on new gun ownership by Professor Matt Miller at Northeastern University, which reported that over 5 million adults became first-time gun owners between January 2020 and April 2021, and in 2019 only 2.4 million adults became first-time gun owners.12

 

And among these first-time gun buyers were young people, women and minorities, from all over the spectrum of political views. In 2020, the number of gun purchases by African Americans increased 56% from what it was the year prior, according to research by the NSSF.13 Women now make up 42% of gun owners in the U.S. according to a recent study from Harvard University. Over the last five years there has been a 14% increase in the number of women who are first-time gun owners, with 3.5 million women joining the ranks between January 2019 and April 2021.14

 

Millennials: The New Hunting Generation

 

Vista Outdoor, a manufacturer of gun ammunition and outdoor sports equipment, reported that they had 8 million people that joined their hunting and shooting categories in 2021, and many of these new hunters were millennials, women and minorities.15  This is a trend has apparently been in the making for several years now. According to a 2017 Pew Research survey, 13 percent of gun owners between ages 18 to 29 had hunting club memberships. And while at that time the older population were most keen on having a gun for personal protection, Kim Parker, Pew Research director of social trends reported to NBC News that hunting was a bigger motivator for millennials regarding their gun purchases.16

 

Here’s some more information on Recreational Sport Shooting gun owners along with other demographics, based on data from the NSSF:

 

  • 28% of the market has an interest in gun ownership as a family guardian, with safety at and away-from-home as their primary motivator.
  • 17% of the market desires to build shooting skills, and see firearms as a means to socialize with friends and family.
  • 18% of the market are hunters, who primarily see firearms as a way to acquire and spend time with family and friends, with protection as a secondary motivator.
  • Urban defenders, whose motivations to own and use a firearm usually stem from theirs and others’ bad experiences, comprise 14% of the market.
  • The last group, prepared for the worst gun owners, are motivated by a desire to gain a sense of security and be ready to handle any dangerous situation, and they comprise 23% of the market.17

 

Millennials and Gun Safety

 

According to the above mentioned 2017 Pew Research study, 30 percent of gun owners with children under the age of 18 reported having a loaded gun that is always within their reach when they are home. But there has been some good news recently reported about millennials and gun safety in the home: According to a 2022 gun study done by Gun Made and Pollfish, Gen Z and Millennials are the most likely to secure their guns in a safe if they were given a tax incentive to do so. That same study found that 36% of Democrats own guns, 57% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats, cementing the argument that gun ownership for millennials spans all political parties.18

 

Millennials, Gun Culture and Social Media Influencers

 

A 2019 Washington Post article entitled The Heavily Armed Millennials of Instagram highlights some of the faces and personalities that have been spearheading the gun culture movement on social media, and they come in all shapes and sizes. First is Mat Best, a former Army Ranger in his mid-thirties who founded the Black Rifle Coffee Company and creates an artistic menagerie of attractive photo displays and satire-laden skits revolving around firearms. His semi-automatic weapon skills are far from his only talents that propel his popularity, as his looks and creative abilities also come into play. But guns are the centerpiece around which his entire narrative is created. And while not everyone agrees that he is a positive representation of gun culture, the size of his massive following and unique content style speak for themselves.19

 

The Washington Post article also talks about Kaitlin Bennett, the Kent State Gun Girl. She was in the process of graduating and decided to simultaneously protest the campus’s gun restrictions by posting a photo of herself on social media with an AR-10 strapped to hear back, which went viral. Another category of these influencers in gun culture are known as “gun bunnies,” who, according to the Washington Post, are “largely viewed as opportunists who use their sex appeal to rack up followers and are especially disdained by serious female shooters.”19 And according to Vox.com, most mainstream gun manufacturers tend to shy away from associating themselves with gun bunny personas.20

 

It is influencers like Best and Bennett that are helping popularize the tactical community, among which piston system rifles such as those manufactured by Adams Arms are a common must-have. The biggest problem in the past with AR-15/M16 rifles is the utilization of gases to cycle a firearm’s action is known as Direct Impingement. This creates a layer of a layer of carbon and burnt gases coat all the moving part of the AR-15 firearm. So not only is cleaning more difficult, but the gases also cause more wear on critical parts in the weapon over time. This can cause issues such as failure to feed and failure to eject, which can be devastating in life-or-death situations.

 

Adams Arms AR-15 Piston-System Rifles

 

But Adams Arms’ modern-tech piston-system rifle is a firearm that is reliable, clean, and cool. With Adams Arms’ piston system:

  • Hot gases and carbon are directed away from the shooter and not into the receiver and bolt carrier group as with a direct impingement system.
  • This requires less cleaning and maintenance than other systems.
  • Because the temperatures in the action are much lower, the components have a longer and more reliable life.

 

Millennials are more educated, more dialed into the latest technology and they look for features such as these piston-driven systems. As an experienced owner of a variety of firearms, Gardipee says he values piston-driven systems: “I actually have a weapon, a Colt Check weapon v z58, it’s not an AK, it shoots the same round and kind of looks the same but it’s piston-driven and I just like shooting it better than my AK.”

 

How Gun Culture Influencers Counterattacked Social Media Advertising Restrictions

 

Millennials may prefer the latest weapons technology, but the challenge in the past has been making this technology known. The Vox.com article The Hired Guns of Instagram describes the advertising restrictions that Facebook and Instagram began placing on gun companies several years ago, and how female influencers helped get around these restrictions by being paid to strategically include guns and other weapon-related merchandise in the content they post. This strategy has appeared to produce positive results for these firearm brands. And these influencers ranged from provocative lingerie-clad Kimberly Matte to the more conservatively dressed yet still physically appealing Liberte Austin, who became a gun enthusiast after enduring a violent home break-in.20

 

Instagram influencers such as these are a big reason why millennials are more aware of second amendment rights, more knowledgeable and as time goes by, they have grown more comfortable being vocal about it. “What social media has done is given us models in gun culture, and those models have gone viral as they say, and that’s really helping gun culture be more mainstream like it should have been in the first place,” says Zoe Warren, host of 2A for Today, a video program related to the Second Amendment and distributed online by New American Magazine. “We had such a limited ability to reach each other through technology up until this generation…I mean it’s only been 15 or 20 years at the max that we’ve had social media, and before that it was all broadcast TV, magazines, or you didn’t get it.”

 

The Power of Gun Culture Endorsements

 

A big aspect of gun culture is apparel. DC-Influencer Emily Valentine has an Instagram page encouraging personal safety while also offering stylish tips to look your best while you conceal carry. But one of the most undeniable indicators of the power that influencers can bring to businesses in the tactical community came for a clothing line called Alexo Athletica. Alexo is a clothing line for women who want to conceal carry weapons while working out, created by former NRATV show co-host Amy Robbins. And in 2019, Popular Fox News personality Tomi Lahren made one social media post endorsing Alexo that garnered the tactical wear brand 6,000 additional followers.20

 

For the masculine side of tactical apparel, there’s another style trend rapidly gaining traction. Many special operators, Green Berets, and Navy SEALs have started clothing brands, accessory apparel, and footwear brands. One, called The DEFCON group, highlights a subculture of tactical firearms apparel that merges with skateboarding style. This is something particularly familiar to millennials, who grew up when skateboarding was at its peak of popularity. This trend has spawned a number of other brands that market to the DEFCON crowd. Examples of these other brands are Resco InstrumentsSC IrregularsForward Observations Group, and the GBRS Group, some of whom not only offer gear, but also tactical training. Then there’s Tribe SK8Z, which offers a highly artistic line of skateboards, and employs Gold Star family members and veterans. Tactical Distributors is another popular line that caters to this crowd, offering everything from camouflage Doc Martens to racy briefs for women with a tactical theme.

 

Guns as a Lifestyle and Recreational Past time

 

The Washington Post article also touched on the idea of guns as a fun and social pastime instead of dangerous obsession. Many gunowners believe there is a misconception about this aspect of firearms as a sport, a lifestyle choice, and source of enjoyment.21 Gardipee agrees that going to the gun range is largely a social activity that he does with his friends, and a pastime he learned from his father growing up. Also, “it’s a talking point for another person that’s into it,” says Gardipee. “I open up the safes and they see these historic weapons and they see these old 1911s, collector edition stuff, so it’s just fun you know, and you show off your stuff, it’s like a big kid with Legos that are dangerous [laughs].”

 

Gun Manufacturers like Adams Arms Provide Value with Training Videos

Gun manufacturers like Adams Arms also offer a lot of training videos and educational material that millennial gun owners find useful for learning about the latest firearms technology. Warren says he thinks these sorts of tactical training videos are a brilliant move by gun companies, and it all ties back to the gun culture as a whole. “So people can go from, you know, the gun bunny or the colorful characters that are in gun culture, that are on social media, to actually getting tactically trained by special forces and delta guys,” says Warren. And the various aspects of gun culture show that this world has something for everyone. “Gun culture has the pop culture front, then it has the Colts and West Montgomery’s as well,” laughs Warren.

  • Reid, KC. “How the Network Generation is Changing the Millennial Military.” War on the Rocks, 20 March 2018. warontherocks.com/2018/03/how-the-network-generation-is-changing-the-millennial-military/
  • Wile, Rob. “Millennials make up the largest share of homebuyers in America, according to recent data.” NBC News, 6 April 2022. nbcnews.com/business/consumer/millennial-homebuyers-now-the-largest-share-of-market-in-america-rcna22894
  • Suciu, Peter. “The Trend Has Flipped: Millennials Are Actually Buying Guns.” The National Interest, 24 May 2021. nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/trend-has-flipped-millennials-are-actually-buying-guns-185969
  • Trent, Sgt. Maj. Kanessa. “Motivating and Educating Millennials.” Army University Press, Published November-December 2019, Accessed 5 July 2022. armyupress.army.mil/journals/military-review/english-edition-archives/november-december-2019/trent-educating-millennials/
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  • Schrager, Allison. “Millennials, the Wealthiest Generation? Believe It.” Bloomberg, 23 June 2021. bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-06-23/millennials-the-wealthiest-generation-believe-it#xj4y7vzkg
  • Shay, Matthew. “Move Over Millennials: Generation Z Is The Retail Industry’s Next Big Buying Group.” Forbes, 12 Jan. 2017. forbes.com/sites/ibm/2017/01/12/move-over-millennials-generation-z-is-the-retail-industrys-next-big-buying-group/?sh=3e163b062f0a
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  • Suciu, Peter. “The Trend Has Flipped: Millennials Are Actually Buying Guns.” The National Interest, 24 May 2021. nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/trend-has-flipped-millennials-are-actually-buying-guns-185969
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