Life is full of twists and turns. Just about the time you think you have it figured out, life throws you a curve. This story has a surprise ending, after life recently threw many of us a curve, but the message remains.
This is a story about one man’s crusade to change the firearms industry. But first, we need to provide a bit of background to bring you up to speed.
John Bartolo has been dubbed “the most dangerous man in the firearms industry”. That is a rather bold statement and requires some qualification. No, Bartolo is not dangerous from a Tier 1 operator perspective. However, there is an adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. While technology may have outdated the pen, the concept remains. Instead of running and gunning and defending the homeland, Bartolo ran his mouth. And to most that is every bit, if not more, dangerous.
Bartolo was the host of the popular podcast, the John Bartolo Show, a gun podcast that seldom focused on anything about guns. The guests, in large part, were all gun enthusiasts or connected to the gun industry, fitness, self-defense, or politics in some way. These included competitive shooters, UFC fighters, captains of industry within the firearms community, local and national politicians, and body builders. Featured guests included Tom Taylor from SIG Sauer, Michelle Viscusi, Max Michelle, JJ Racaza, Doug Koenig, Jay Cutler, Forest Griffin, Cowboy Cerrone, Valentina Shevchenko, and the squad from Geeks and Gamers.
Suffice to say, I could fill this entire article with the guest list from the last few years. But this article is not about a podcast. Instead, it is about a man who set out to shake the foundations of the gun industry and his message. And how he almost succeeded using modern media.
I need to depart from the scheduled crescendo of this article with an admission. Tragically, after the first draft of this article, John Bartolo suffered a heart attack in early March 2022 that took his life at the age of 40.
John Bartolo was a master at picking apart a marketing department and showing a CEO why their marketing plan was two decades behind the modern world and how their communications were not being used effectively. And that is what made him so dangerous. That, and his lack of a filter when he spoke—on air, over the phone, or to your face. After all, hard truths are dangerous.
Some loved what Bartolo had to say, and others feared him. Bartolo’s quest to update the thinking and messaging within the firearms community was not limited to manufacturers. Bartolo used his voice to challenge the top echelons of the National Rifle Association (NRA), National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and others of the ilk.
While John Bartolo was a staunch supporter of these organizations and the Second Amendment, he also believed they shared a common flaw with the rest of the gun industry — it is run by “a bunch of old white guys”. That is as much of a euphemism as it is fact in many ways. The gun industry and its power brokers are out of touch, stuck doing business the old way, and failing to adapt to modern technology and practices.
The Bartolo Concept
Before getting too deep, it may be prudent for a mea culpa of sorts. It is easy to criticize the efforts of the NRA or NSSF. Certainly, it is much easier to find fault than to do the job these organizations tackle on a daily basis. The following is not meant to tear down these organizations, but rather illustrate Bartolo’s point about an evolving world.
Take communication. When was the last time the NRA reached out to you other than through email? How many of you reading this have kids, even adult-aged kids, that regularly use email? The model is outdated. Videos of kids opening presents can make millions. Streams of people talking about video games or just for the privilege of watching someone play video games are bringing in thousands of dollars.
“Why haven’t the organizations defending our Second Amendment rights and those seeking to expand our rights embraced new technology? Why have they not utilized these platforms to create the media to engage the next generations of Second Amendment advocates?”– John Bartolo
Let’s take podcasting as an example. Podcasting has a broad reach that targets the masses and crosses all generations. We live in a world where email campaigns are less likely to reach seniors and millennials don’t want to spend time reading more than a shorthand text message. Long-form podcasting has the depth to entertain while tackling tough issues. It can be consumed as video or audio only. It can be parsed to produce several clips that can then be dealt out across multiple social platforms. This produces a continual stream of communication.
And it is not just the podcasting. New forms of media and communication are constantly evolving. However, those we donate our hard-earned dollars to, the people and organizations we have entrusted to lead the fight for the Second Amendment, are hopelessly behind the times. Big tech is no friend of the Second Amendment. But by using new technologies, we can effectively communicate our message—if we can get rid of the “old white guy way of thinking”.
Solutions to the Threat to the Second Amendment
The future of the firearms industry and Second Amendment hinges on two forces, the effectiveness of anti-Second Amendment forces and future pro-Second Amendment recruitment. The success of the antis or our failure to secure the next generation of advocates will spell our doom. Politics are fickle. A legislator can be your best advocate one day and lick their finger to see which way the political wind blows the next. Access to the shooting sports has been an issue for some time; a lack of enthusiasm from the next generation is also a paramount issue.
Millennials are extremely likely to be enthusiasts of a first-person shooter video game, but many have never fired a gun at the range or honed their self-defense skills for the day the wolf knocks on their door. If new shooters are not introduced into the shooting sports, the Second Amendment will falter through pure attrition of enthusiasts. After all, have you ever introduced someone to firearms who did not have fun?
John Bartolo’s Legacy Must Live On
While one man with the goal of modernizing the pro-Second Amendment communications effort has been lost, his message and methodology were not. The firearms industry and the organizations at the forefront of the fight for our rights need to step up their collective game. The blueprint to create media, reach new audiences, and spread the message for pennies is there. We need leadership with the vision to see it and brains to embrace it, or we can let the Second Amendment die by keeping business as usual.