America’s civilian firearms market was built on advertising. Since Samuel Colt sold his gun as the weapon that won the Mexican-American War, gunmakers have used marketing to promulgate a mythos of firearm ownership — one that, particularly in recent years, has pushed the message that guns are the solution to an unsafe world.

It’s been a hard story to shake. Though piles of public health research have shown that the opposite is true — in an unsafe world, owning a gun makes you more vulnerable, not less — the firearms industry’s false promise of security has nonetheless been accepted by many people who aren’t part of the traditional gun-owning demographic. Women believe it. People of color believe it. Young people believe it. 

Marketing is a powerful tool, and it can leave an indelible mark in the public consciousness: Beyond the example of the gun industry, think of the hubbub around Super Bowl commercials, or the way knowing the jingle from a regional ad can make you feel at home with someone you just met, or how it feels to unwrap a beautifully boxed product. Public health advocates have taken notice of that power for decades, and crafted campaigns that convinced Americans not to drink and drive, to stop smoking, and to buckle up. Recently, big players in the gun violence prevention movement have started asking if this tradition of transforming America through advertising could transform our relationship to guns, too.

In a feature for The Trace, published in partnership with The Guardian, journalist Katie Worth profiles the most ambitious of these efforts: Project Unloaded, a nonprofit founded by gun violence prevention advocate Nina Vinik two years ago. Vinik’s team is working with teens to inform young people that if they buy a gun, their odds of dying by a bullet will go up. But as the teens who participated in Project Unloaded noted, changing minds isn’t a simple process.

From Our Team

A roundup of stories from The Trace.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Buy Guns

Public health messaging once convinced young people to buckle up and stop smoking. In the TikTok era, a new set of activists is clarifying the dangers posed by firearms.


“In Guns We Trust”: A Podcast About How the U.S. Became So Divided Over Guns

In the coming season of “Long Shadow,” Trace staffers help explore the evolution of America’s gun debate.

Listen → 

Philly Has a Fraught History With Stop-And-Frisk Policing. Will Mayor Parker Expand Its Use?

Parker’s handling of a fatal shooting by a police officer left some anticipating that she could revive the tactic.


The Biden Administration Launches a Red Flag Law Resource Hub

On a March 23 visit to Parkland, Florida, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the launch of the National Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center.

Read more →

What to Know This Week

During a visit to Chicago, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department will invest $78 million in new grants for community-based violence prevention programs. While homicides declined nationwide in 2023, Garland said, the Justice Department is “doubling down” on efforts to continue reducing gun violence. [CBS News/Chicago Sun-Times

For seven months in 2020 and 2021, Washington, D.C.’s Police Department was the only legal gun dealer in the district. Federal documents show that an unusual number of firearms sold through the department were recovered at crime scenes in a short period — enough for the ATF to place D.C. police in a program designed to give extra scrutiny to dealers linked to higher levels of crime guns. [News4]

New York City plans to test portable gun scanners at a limited number of subway stops after a 90-day waiting period. Records show that scanners from the company it will partner with, Evolv, were installed in a city hospital for a pilot program in 2022 and yielded false positives 85 percent of the time. [Associated Press/The New York Times/Hell Gate

Nearly two years after Uvalde, Texas, became the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, some survivors and families who lost loved ones feel forgotten, as multiple investigations into the botched police response have offered strikingly different assessments. The city’s mayor resigned on Monday, citing health reasons, just weeks after one report defended officers’ actions that day. [The Texas Tribune/Los Angeles Times

On Tuesday, a young boy shot and killed a 12-year-old student and wounded two others at a school in Finland, reportedly using a weapon that was licensed to a close relative. The shooting brought attention to the country’s high gun ownership rates — and brought up tough questions for Finns on how to prevent other such attacks from happening again. [CNN/BBC]

In Memoriam

Lakeyshia Timmons, 42, “was the best mother in the world,” her son Antoine Buchanan-Timmons told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — no small feat for a single mom with eight children and nine grandchildren. She was shot and killed near her home in Milwaukee on Monday, just after dropping some of those kids off at school. Timmons was a mother to not only to her family, but also to her community: “Any kids who needed somewhere to stay were her kids,” her daughter Latanilia Timmons told the local NBC station. “She looked out for everybody as much as she could.” Family members said Timmons was their rock. She always made sure people knew that she cared about them — her father said Timmons called him every day to say “I love you,” and Antoine remembered his mother telling him that she loved him each day before school. “That’s what she did,” Antoine said. “She devoted her life to her kids.”

We Recommend

They Make Viral Gun Videos—With Hardline Christian Values

“T.Rex Arms sells gun accessories. According to one expert, ‘The product is ideology, too.’” [Mother Jones]

Pull Quote

“I don’t know if I don’t know somebody that’s (hasn’t) really been impacted by it firsthand. … It’s apocalyptic in a sense.”

— Rachel Zuraff, a member of the Minnesota Youth Council, on gun violence increasingly touching young people in the state, to MinnPost