WASHINGTON — Gunmakers have made more than $1 billion over the past decade selling AR-15-style weapons, sometimes marketed as a way for young men to prove their manhood, even as mass shootings rise, according to a house investigation revealed on Wednesday.
The weapons have been used in massacres that have horrified the nation, including one that killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo and another that killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.
The Committee on Oversight and Reform said some ads mimic popular first-person shooter video games or tout the weapons’ military heritage, while others argue the weapons will place buyers “at the top of the testosterone food chain.”
Those sales tactics are “deeply disturbing, exploitative and reckless,” said New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney. In short, the arms industry benefits from the blood of innocent Americans.
Gunmakers, on the other hand, said AR-15-style rifles are responsible for a small fraction of firearms homicides and that the blame should lie with the gunmen rather than their weapons.
“What we saw in Uvalde, Buffalo and Highland Park was pure evil,” said Marty Daniels, the CEO of Daniel Defense, the company that made the weapon used in Texas. “The brutality of the murderers who committed these acts is unfathomable and deeply disturbs me, my family, my employees and millions of Americans in this country.”
However, he later added in testimony before the committee, “I believe these murders are local problems that need to be solved locally.”
Gun violence generally peaked in 2020, but recent statistics indicate it is declining in many cities this year.
The House panel’s investigation focused on five major gun manufacturers and found that they’ve brought in a total of more than $1 billion in revenue from the sale of AR-15-style firearms over the past 10 years. The sales figures were released ahead of the committee hearing that focused on the marketing and sale of the firearms that have come to prominence for their use in the mass murders.
Two of the companies have tripled their income from the weapons in the past three years, the commission found. Daniel Defense, based near Savannah, Georgia, increased that revenue from $40 million in 2019 to more than $120 million last year. The company sells weapons like those used in Uvalde on credit and advertises that financing can be approved ‘in seconds’.
Sturm, Ruger & Co.’s gross revenues, meanwhile, have nearly tripled from $39 million to $103 million since 2019, and Smith and Wesson reported revenues from all long guns doubled from 2019 to 2021. Gun manufacturers, the commission said, do. do not collect or analyze firearms safety data.
The increases come against the backdrop of a record-breaking overall surge in arms sales that started around the start of the coronavirus pandemic. About 8.5 million people first bought guns in 2020, Georgia Republican Representative Jody Hice said. But he said, “American people have the right to own guns.”
The hearing comes amid pressure from House Democrats to pass legislation that would ban certain semi-automatic weapons. It is the lawmakers’ most far-reaching response to this summer’s mass shootings yet.
While AR-15-style firearms aren’t necessarily the primary drivers of U.S. gun violence in general, their design allows shooters to inflict damage on more people from a greater distance, said Kelly Sampson, senior adviser and director of racial violence. justice at Brady, a group pushing for an end to gun violence that supports restrictions in general.
“Renewing the assault weapons ban would take away a significant part of what allows mass shooters to kill more people in less time without having to stop to reload,” she said.
According to the Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University Mass Killing Database, there have been 15 mass murders this year. According to that investigation, those incidents left 86 people dead and 63 injured. Guns were used in all of them. Mass murders are defined as incidents in which at least four people are killed.
But the AR-15 and similar weapons are also popular with people who buy guns for self-defense, said Antonia Okafor, the national outreach director for the Gun Owners of America group. Such rifles allow people, including women, to shoot a larger rifle without absorbing as much recoil.
“The AR-15 makes it easier for those who are at a physical disadvantage to the attacker to gain the upper hand,” she said.
Gun violence overall increased dramatically in 2020, but recent statistics indicate that it is declining in many cities this year.
Wednesday’s hearing marked the first time in 20 years that CEOs of leading weapons manufacturers testified about their companies, Maloney said.
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