Senators Call for FTC Investigation of Firearms Industry’s Unfair and Deceptive Advertising – Ed Markey

Today’s letter follows increased scrutiny of the marketing tactics employed by the manufacturer of the gun used to kill nineteen schoolchildren plus two teachers in Uvalde, Texas

Washington (September 12, 2022) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass. ), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn. ), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn. ) led a group of twelve senators in calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to “to undertake an investigation and consider regulation from the unfair and deceptive advertising practices used by the firearms industry. ” In a letter today to FTC Chair Khan, the particular senators highlighted the guns industry’s efforts to mislead consumers about the safety associated with guns and the employment of advertising tactics that target children plus teenagers – including using video games, popular musicians and television shows, and even Santa Claus to market its deadly products.    

“The industry regularly and routinely makes false and misleading representations about firearm safety and unfairly exploits children and teenagers through unfair and deceptive marketing practices, including targeting teenagers, particularly young men, with advertising for military-style weapons, ” the senators wrote. “Time plus again, these practices have had deadly consequences. ”

The gun industry’s advertising and marketing practices have received increased attention following the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where the mass shooter used an assault rifle manufactured by Daniel Defense. Daniel Defense’s advertising materials highlight the company’s military contracts and reference popular first-person shooter video games to target kids and teens.

Earlier this year, the particular families of nine victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary College in Newtown, Connecticut secured a settlement of their claims against Remington Arms based on the company’s advertising methods.

Today’s letter was also signed by U. S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill. ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R. I. ), Cory Booker (D-N. J. ), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif. ), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn. ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N. Y. ), Alex Padilla (D-Calif. ), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass. ), and Jack Reed (D-R. We. ).

The full text from the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Chair Khan:

We write to urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to undertake an investigation plus consider regulation of the unjust and misleading advertising procedures used by the firearms industry.  

Following the horrific massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022, Daniel Defense—the manufacturer of the assault rifle used in the attack—has come under increased and warranted overview for its marketing practices. Daniel Defense touts military agreements and ties in order to market weapons associated with war to the general public, plus specifically targets and tailors its advertisements to children and teenagers with invocations of and references in order to popular first-person shooter video gaming like Call of Duty—a game reportedly played by the 18-year-old present shooter in Uvalde.  

Daniel Defense is not the only weapons manufacturer that has, appropriately, come under mounting scrutiny for its advertising practices. For example , in February 2022, the families of nine victims murdered in Sandy Hook Elementary School secured a settlement against Remington Arms—the producer of the firearm used to kill 20 kids and six educators inside Newtown, Connecticut almost 10 years ago—for its own marketing techniques. Daniel Defense and Remington, however , are far from outliers in the firearms industry. The industry regularly plus routinely makes false and misleading representations about gun safety plus unfairly exploits children and teenagers through unfair plus deceptive marketing and advertising practices, including targeting teens, particularly young men, with advertising for military-style weapons. Time and again, these practices have had deadly consequences.

The FTC has the power to address these types of deceptive marketing practices that threaten consumers and public safety. Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act empowers the FTC to investigate and regulate “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or even affecting commerce, ” including in the advertising of products.   The FTC has previously investigated and taken strong action against other industries for similar false and misleading safety-related claims, particularly when such claims target and endanger children. The particular tobacco and e-cigarette industries are perhaps the paradigmatic example. Since the 1940s, the FTC has brought enforcement actions against tobacco companies for unfair and deceptive claims over the health and safety of cigarettes—most prominently with its lawsuit against R. J. Reynolds over the use of the Joe Camel cartoon to market to children.

The same should be done here with respect to the firearms industry and the unsubstantiated claims it has made—and continues to make—in its advertisements. For decades, the firearms industry offers marketed guns to consumers as a safe and proven product to protect themselves plus their homes. Consumers should be informed of all the substantial and unavoidable risks that come with firearm ownership, possession, and use, and the FTC is in the best position to make sure that the weapons industry tells them—and informs them accurately.

The first petition calling for the FTC to investigate the firearms industry was filed in 1996 —more than 25 years ago—and numerous petitions have been filed in the intervening years. A request for an investigation filed in April by the Firearms Accountability Counsel Taskforce (FACT) documents in chilling detail how the firearms business has knowingly engaged in a long pattern associated with unfair plus deceptive marketing to mislead the American public into erroneously believing that gun ownership makes them safer, when the available evidence overwhelmingly proves the opposite.   The petition also highlights the violent results of the industry’s efforts to “target and radicalize” consumers by “convincing them that they need expensive, military-grade weaponry with regard to everyday make use of. ”  The petition includes examples of attempts that targeted young men in particular with connections to video games and statements that owning military-grade weapons was the only path to manhood. Everytown regarding Gun Safety, Brady, and Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed within the 2018 Parkland shooting, filed a petition in May 2020, and followed up with a letter last year reiterating their request for an investigation of Smith & Wesson’s marketing methods.   And, in July, Everytown intended for Gun Security filed the petition specifically focused on the particular highly chaotic and militarized marketing procedures of Daniel Defense, to which teens plus young men are particularly susceptible.   The particular FTC, however , has never used public actions in response to the petitions that have exposed these practices.

These petitions show that the available evidence strongly demonstrates that firearm ownership, ownership, and use render consumers substantially less safe and considerably more at risk of injury plus death with limited, if any, protective benefit.   The rare instances in which a gun owner successfully uses a firearm to get self-defense are far outweighed from the vastly higher number of injuries and deaths for the owners, family members, and other cohabitants. In fact , research indicates that for each instance where a firearm in the home is used successfully in self-defense, there are 11 attempted or completed gun suicides, seven criminal assaults or homicides involving a firearm, and four unintentional shootings.  

That fact comports with broader gun violence research plus data. More than half of the near 46, 000 suicides reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2020 involved guns.   64 Americans die by firearm suicide every day, and 700 children pass away by gun suicide each year.   Firearm suicides are almost always deadly: 9 out of 10 firearm suicide attempts result in death.   In addition , unintended and accidental shootings are also a serious problem specific to firearm possession, ownership, plus use—particularly pertaining to children. Well over four million children live in households along with at least one unlocked and loaded firearm.   Although 70 percent of parents documented that adolescents could not access firearms in their household, more than one-third of children in those households reported being able to access the particular firearm in less than five minutes.   Every day, eight children are unintentionally injured or even killed due to an revealed or unsupervised gun in the home.   In 2022, so far, there have been at least 181 unintentional shootings simply by children, resulting in 77 fatalities and 115 injuries.   In 2021, there were almost 400—including 163 deaths and 248 accidental injuries.  

None of this evidence is new. We plus, more importantly, the firearms market, have known for decades that will firearm ownership, ownership, and use can have serious—often deadly—irreversible consequences. But that has never stopped the particular firearms sector from advertising guns as indispensable to safeguard oneself within and outside the home. If anything, the firearms industry has doubled-down on the unfair plus deceptive marketing with a specific emphasis on military and law enforcement grade weapons and a particular focus on kids and teenagers, using video gaming, popular musicians and television shows, and even Santa Claus to promote its products.    

This scheme provides worked—to the benefit of the firearms industry and the detriment of consumers. Evidence shows that decades associated with deceptive advertising has deceived Americans in to believing, inaccurately, that having a gun in your home decreases the risk of violence once the opposite is true. This mistaken belief has led to the historic surge in weapon sales and industry profits tragically in tandem with the number of gun-related deaths in the United States.   Data from the CDC shows that gun deaths within 2020 in the usa reached the highest level ever recorded—45, 500.   Within 2020, firearms were also, for the first time, the leading cause of death among children and teenagers—a 29-percent increase from 2019.   Firearms are now among the leading causes of death nationwide, as more than 120 Americans are killed each day with a gun.   If the guns industry’s commercial representations were based on fact and proof instead of profit motives, the particular gun assault trendline would be trending downward. Reality reflects otherwise.  

The FTC must act to ensure that the firearms business, which has operated without oversight and with impunity for far too long, is held accountable for deceptive consumers about the harms guns can cause in order to themselves, their children, and their own communities. To that end, we encourage the particular FTC to make full use of all its tools plus authorities to check into and manage the weapons industry’s unjust and misleading advertising practices.


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