The chief executives of two leading gun manufacturers said mass shootings are “local problems” that cannot be blamed on “inanimate” firearms when a House panel asked them Wednesday whether they accept responsibility for selling the assault-style rifles used in most of the recent massacres.
The CEOs of Daniel Defense and Sturm, Ruger & Co. condemned the attacks in Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas; and Highland Park, Illinois, while testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
They said such mass murders need to stop but balked when they were asked whether their companies would stop selling assault-style rifles.
“I believe that these murders are local problems that have to be solved locally,” said Marty Daniel, the CEO of Daniel Defense, the company that made the rifle the Uvalde gunman used to kill 19 children and two teachers.
In his opening remarks, Daniel said lawmakers should focus on the "type of person" likely to commit mass shootings, not the "type of gun" that person might use.
Asked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the committee chair, whether he would “accept personal responsibility” for his company’s role in that shooting, Daniel said the “murderers are responsible” before Maloney cut off the rest of his answer.
Christopher Killoy, the CEO of Sturm, Ruger & Co., also deflected blame, saying the “firearm is an inanimate object.” Killoy said he does not consider his company’s “modern sporting rifles” to be “weapons of war.”
Maloney stopped Killoy from continuing his response to underscore the staggering profits gun companies have collected as gun violence surged nationwide.
Gun manufacturers have made more than $1 billion from selling assault-style weapons to civilians, with some companies’ earnings tripling as gun deaths soared, Maloney said, citing internal financial data the committee obtained.
Daniel Defense took in more than $120 million in sales of AR-15-style rifles last year, compared with $40 million in 2019, the committee said. Sturm, Ruger & Co.’s gross earnings nearly tripled in the same time frame, from $39 million to more than $103 million.
Smith & Wesson — which sold the high-powered weapons used in the Fourth of July massacre in Highland Park — saw its revenue from all long guns more than doubled, from $108 million to $253 million, in that period.
The CEO of Smith & Wesson was invited to testify but did not show up, Maloney said, adding that the committee would subpoena the company for its documents.
"It's no secret why gun CEOs are so desperate to avoid taking responsibility for the deaths caused by their product," she said.
“It seems to me that if a company really cared that its products were being used to kill scores of Americans, it would stop selling them,” Maloney added. “But of course, the gun industry won’t do that, because they’re making lots and lots of money from these weapons.”
The committee began investigating the gun industry’s profits after the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. It released its initial findings Wednesday, ahead of the hearing to address the role the firearms industry plays in America’s gun violence epidemic.
The committee said leading gun manufacturers used “disturbing sales tactics,” including targeting the weapons at young men to prove their manliness, while failing to take basic steps to monitor the “violence and destruction their products have unleashed.”
Some Republicans on the committee expressed outrage at the line of questioning by their Democratic colleagues.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., demanded that Maloney apologize for her "lack of leadership" and instead address policies that are “soft on crime” and seek to “defund the police.”
“To go after the manufacturers of guns while at the same time remaining soft on crime,” he said, “is absolutely disgusting to me.”
Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., said gun violence stems from “weak families.”
More people died from gunfire in the U.S. in 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, than at any other time on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were more than 45,000 firearm deaths that year.
From 2019 to 2020, firearm homicide rates in the U.S. increased by almost 35%, the highest level recorded in over 25 years, affecting all age groups and widening racial and ethnic disparities across the country, the CDC said.
In addition, active shooter incidents last year surged by more than 50% from 2020 and nearly 97% from 2017, the FBI said in May.
The House is expected to vote this week on a ban on so-called assault weapons for the first time since 1994, Maloney said.
In her closing remarks, Maloney said gun-makers will not change unless Congress forces them to "finally put people over profits."
She said she hoped the executives would acknowledge their role in the gun violence epidemic, apologize to the families who have lost loved ones in mass shootings and agree to stop selling high-powered weapons.
"Sadly," Maloney said, "they refused."