Concerns over the firearm industry’s marketing practices and accountability grew Thursday, prompting more proposed legislation, a day after chief executives of two leading gun manufacturers told Congress they bore no blame in the recent mass shootings.
House lawmakers introduced a measure that would direct the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the gun industry’s advertising and marketing practices. It is the latest attempt by federal legislators to hold gun companies responsible after the massacres in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas.
But like other proposals making their way through Congress — including a ban on so-called assault weapons and a repeal of federal protections that largely shield the gun industry from lawsuits — it faces staunch Republican opposition that will likely keep it from advancing in the Senate.
Now, gun safety advocates urge lawmakers to ramp up efforts after gun-makers doubled down on their lack of culpability while testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
"I am now convinced that if something is not done to rein in the bad actors in the firearms industry, with regards to marketing, I’m fearful those bad actors will end up setting the course for the entire industry," said Ryan Busse, a former firearms executive and author of the book “Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America.”
Busse, 52, who testified in person at the Wednesday hearing, looked on as the chief executives of Daniel Defense and Sturm, Ruger & Co. told Congress that mass shootings are “local problems” that cannot be blamed on “inanimate” firearms.
Daniel Defense made the rifle the Uvalde gunman used to kill 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on May 24. The company mostly sells semi-automatic rifles, which make up about 80% of its sales, CEO Marty Daniel said.
While he condemned the attack, Daniel said “murderers are responsible” for mass shootings, rather than the guns or the gun manufacturers.
Similarly, Christopher Killoy, CEO of Sturm, Ruger & Co., said the “firearm is an inanimate object," and that he does not consider his company’s “modern sporting rifles” to be “weapons of war.”
At the hearing, several committee members honed in on the "disturbing" sales tactics that they say fueled the gun industry's staggering profits in the last few years. Those tactics, the committee said, include marketing weapons to white supremacists and young men to prove their manliness.
Busse, who was vice president of sales for gun manufacturer Kimber before he left in 2020, said the gun industry’s “egregiously irresponsible marketing” will accelerate if Congress does not pass measures.
"There is much more of this on the way," said Busse, now a senior adviser for the gun violence prevention group Giffords. "No one from the industry is going to stop it, and it’s going to get much worse."
Some Democratic lawmakers in the House are hoping to prevent that, but they face an uphill battle.
Thursday's measure would direct the FTC to create and enforce rules that would curb deceptive firearms marketing practices, as well as investigate gun ads that appear to target minors, imply or encourage illegal firearm use, or relate to the sale of semi-automatic weapons.
It would also require gun companies to pay up to about $46,500 in penalties for each violation.
New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski, who introduced the bill, said it would make clear that "there are consequences for deceptively hawking weapons of war to impressionable consumers."
Congress is expected to soon vote on banning so-called assault weapons for the first time since 1994. And last week, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance a measure that would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, clearing the way for a vote on the House floor.
Since 2005, the federal law has given sweeping immunities to firearms and ammunition manufacturers and sellers from liability when their products are used in crimes.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has tried to repeal the law more than four times since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Until now, each attempt has failed to advance out of committees and subcommittees.
In a news release, Schiff celebrated that progress as one of the most significant congressional acts in a decade.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said the movement was a "really hopeful sign” but conceded that at least this year, that is likely the farthest the bill will go.
“I don’t see any possible way forward in this particular Senate," he said, adding that the proposed measures, particularly the repeal, would lead to significant and sorely needed structural changes.
"Every time that there’s a major shooting, gun sales go way up," Beyer said. "This is unfettered capitalism at its worst."