One of the groups that’s been highly destructive to Second Amendment rights is the Violence Policy Center. The group was founded by and is the brain trust of Josh Sugarmann, the current Executive Director. Sugarmann has been behind some of the biggest hits to civil liberties over the decades, but his group isn’t exactly in the forefront of the battle to dismantle democracy in the U.S. Once welcomed into the halls of Congress to testify, Sugarmann and his group, you don’t hardly hear from anymore. They’re all but a relic that pops up from time to time in the news and we hear from them through the self-serving e-blasts they send out. Tuesday February 28, 2023 was one such day Sugarmann’s disciples heard from the barely existing group:
Thanks to your support, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) continues to make news with our original research while offering unique expertise that reporters know that they can rely on.
All of our efforts are driven by a single goal: to stop gun death and injury.
Last month, we revealed that gunmaker WEE1 Tactical was relaunching its marketing campaign for the JR-15 – an AR-15 assault rifle designed for children. We first focused public attention on this child-size assault rifle a year ago.
Following a wave of public outrage, little was heard from the company – until now. In the wake of this renewed marketing push, legislation has been introduced in Congress to ban the marketing of guns to children and U.S. Senators have called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation.
Attaboy Sugarmann! You go get ’em! Talking about their “revealing” that a gunmaker was “relaunching its marketing campaign” is what the group considers “original research?” I don’t know how much of a laurel the group should be giving themselves for what amounts to the banging of pots and pans – they’re making noise. It was the “public outrage” that caused an “investigation.”
This is understandable. These groups need to send out “look what we did” emails in order to raise funds. Truth be told, the Violence Policy Center has not done much of anything that’s worth discussing in years. Yet, they took the opportunity to talk about how great they are for being covered recently in the media:
At the same time, the news media relies on our original public health research and ongoing investigative work on the unregulated firearms industry to increase public understanding of America’s gun crisis:
“Call This Violence What It Is,” The New York Times: “Women killed by a single offender in the United States, according to a 2021 report by the Violence Policy Center, are far more likely to die at the hands of a current or former romantic partner than at the hands of a male stranger.”
“Why a low gun-owning demographic is now arming up,” CNN: Last week, I was interviewed by CNN’s Kyung Lah, detailing the VPC’s research on how the firearms industry is targeting Asian Americans as potential new gun owners and hoped-for future pro-gun political activists.
These are just a few examples of the VPC’s impact in helping journalists, policymakers, and the public better understand gun violence in our nation so that real change can happen.
There’s much more work to be done, and we’re grateful you’re supporting and following the Violence Policy Center to help make it possible.
There’s such a sweet irony to Sugarmann’s remarks in the CNN piece, it’s almost laughable. In the coverage, prominent gun rights activist, competitive shooter, and former “Top Shot” contestant Chris Cheng got a bit of ridicule from Sugarmann.
“You could call Chris Cheng an ambassador at best and a salesman at worst,” says Josh Sugarmann, Violence Policy Center executive director. The organization included Cheng in a 2021 analysis titled, “How the Firearms Industry Markets Guns to Asian Americans.”
“What you’re seeing head-on is the marketing efforts by the gun industry to target a new market. The primary base of the gun industry’s sales attention has been older White males. And what’s happening is they’re dying off. To borrow a phrase in the tobacco industry, the industry is not finding replacement shooters to take their place.”
Cheng, the last time I checked, testified before Congress more recently than you, Mr. Sugarmann. Cheng’s relevance will outlast your rhetoric of hoplophobia and hate. The “ambassador at best” taught himself how to shoot and went on to win season four of “Top Shot,” a show with shooters competing against one another. Cheng, unlike the Violence Policy Center, is actually enacting positive change in society – and doing so honestly.
I reached out to Cheng to ask him if he had anything he’d like to add that was not covered in the CNN story. “Sugarmann is implying that gun sales are bad because he doesn’t trust Americans to make good decisions about keeping our communities safe,” Cheng told me, “He walks a fine line of racism and misogyny where he’s saying it’s bad for the gun industry to reach out to people of color, women, or other minority groups like LGBTQ Americans.” Cheng further explained:
The gun industry should continue reaching out and marketing to Americans from all walks of life.
Sugarmann seems to support a racist, ageist and sexist idea that gun ownership should be a civil right just for older, White men. It is beyond ironic that Sugarmann, an older White man, thinks that our Second Amendment right is best for only people who look like him.
Sugarmann fails to understand that civil rights are for all Americans no matter your ethnicity, age, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. He hates the idea of the gun community reflecting Americans of diverse backgrounds.
He is right about one thing though: yes I’m a salesman. I’m selling the ideas of freedom and that we all have a right to self defense with a firearm. I am not saying that everyone should just go and buy a gun, I’m saying that in order to maintain a truly free and safe society we must protect and defend all of our civil rights. We must choose freedom and preserve the choice to own, or not to own a firearm.
I certainly appreciate Cheng taking the time out of his day to share with us his sentiments on Sugarmann’s myopic view on our “ambassador at best.” Cheng is taking a very authentic approach to the protection of our civil liberties, something that VPC cannot truthfully say. Cheng might be appealing to peoples’ sensibilities, but he’s doing so in an honest manner. The cultural war will be won this way. In a way, Sugarmann is to thank for giving proponents of civil liberties the correct tactics to employ, however Cheng et.al. are not going out of their way to be purposely deceiving.
Let’s revisit what was said first thing in the email that was sent out:
The Violence Policy Center (VPC) continues to make news with our original research while offering unique expertise that reporters know that they can rely on.
On more than one occasion, it’s had to be pointed out that the VPC and Josh Sugarmann have had some issues during their tenure as disarmament proponents. It was Sugarmann who coined the term “assault weapon,” stating that the average Joe isn’t smart enough to know the difference between that and a fully automatic firearm. It was through this deception, he accurately stated, people would come out in droves to support bans on semi-automatic rifles. The VPC’s paper “Assault Weapons and Accessories in America” notes this in their conclusion section:
Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons.
Call me obtuse, but this does not sound like “original research while offering unique expertise that reporters know that they can rely on.” This, in my opinion, sounds like a group of liars who purposefully misled an unsuspecting public.
The website InfluenceWatch.org has a few things to say about the VPC and Sugarmann:
Violence Policy Center continues to face criticism for misrepresenting facts and inflating numbers to further its position on gun crime.
Violence Policy Center has been accused of misrepresenting facts by multiple individuals and organizations.
Despite his gun-control career, Sugarmann reportedly holds a Federal Firearms License (FFL). In 1992, Sugarmann and the VPC lobbied for a ban on issuing FFL licenses to private citizens. Sugarmann called the practice a “public safety scandal created by the very agency charged with enforcing federal firearms laws.” 
Despite successfully lobbying for an end to “kitchen counter” FFL’s, Sugarmann applied for what VPC might call a “kitchen counter” license himself. A Freedom of Information Act request shows documentation requesting an FFL, signed by Sugarmann. 
Like most progressives, hypocrisy much?
We can’t begrudge Violence Policy Center for struggling to stay relevant. Self-preservation is a natural instinct. We can, though, highlight when, in our opinions, they’re being hypocritical, less than honest, and trying to be disparage salt-of-the-Earth advocates who are doing great work. What new fake outrage will VPC trump up next? Who knows. Who cares? Regardless, we’ll be keeping an eye on what the group is saying. We’ll also be the first to call them out when their rhetoric, “coupled with the public’s confusion,” is being possibly misleading.