Jae C Hong/AP
WASHINGTON — Gun manufacturers have raked in more than $1 billion over the past decade selling AR-15-style guns, at times marketing them as a way for young men to prove their manhood, even as the number of mass shootings has increased increases to an investigation into the home revealed on Wednesday.
The guns have been used in massacres that have horrified the nation, including one that left 10 people dead at a Buffalo grocery store and one 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 guns’ military pedigree, while others claim the guns put buyers “at the top of the testosterone food chain.”
These sales tactics are “deeply disturbing, exploitative and ruthless,” said New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney. “In short, the gun industry profits from the blood of innocent Americans.”
Gun manufacturers, on the other hand, said AR-15-style rifles accounted for a small portion of gun homicides, and the blame must lie with the shooters rather than their guns.
“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 cruelty of the killers who committed these acts is unfathomable and deeply disturbing to me, my family, my employees and millions of Americans across this country.”
However, he later added in his testimony before the committee, “I believe these killings are local issues that need to be solved locally.”
Gun violence increased overall in 2020, but current statistics show that it is declining in many cities this year.
The House panel’s investigation focused on five major gun manufacturers and found that they generated more than $1 billion in combined revenue from sales of AR-15 style firearms over the past 10 years. Sales figures were released for the committee hearing, which focused on the marketing and sales of the firearms, which have gained notoriety for their use in mass murders.
Two of the companies have roughly tripled their earnings from the guns over the past three years, the committee found. Based near Savannah, Georgia, Daniel Defense grew that revenue from $40 million in 2019 to more than $120 million last year. The company sells guns like the one in Uvalde on credit, touting that financing can be approved “in a matter of seconds.”
Salvador Ramos, who was charged in the Uvalde shootings, began buying firearms and ammunition when he turned 18 and eventually gave up more than $5,000 for two AR rifles, ammunition, in the days leading up to the massacre and other equipment, authorities said.
Sturm, Ruger & Co.’s gross revenue, meanwhile, has nearly tripled since 2019 to $103 million from $39 million, and Smith and Wesson reported that its earnings from all long guns doubled from 2019 to 2021. Gun manufacturers, the committee said: Do not collect or analyze safety data related to firearms.
The increases come amid a record-breaking overall increase in arms sales that began around the start of the coronavirus pandemic. About 8.5 million people bought guns for the first time in 2020, said Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia. He added, “The American people have the right to own guns.”
The hearing comes amid a push by House Democrats to pass legislation that would ban certain semi-automatic weapons. It is the most far-reaching response by lawmakers to this summer’s mass shootings.
While AR-15-style firearms aren’t necessarily the main drivers of US gun violence overall, their design allows shooters to harm more people at a greater distance, Kelly Sampson, senior counsel and director of racial justice at Brady, told a group press gun violence quit, which generally supports restrictions.
“Renewing the ban on assault weapons would take away a key element 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 were 15 mass killings this year. According to this investigation, these incidents left 86 dead and 63 injured. Firearms were used in all, and at least seven were AR-15 style weapons. Mass killings 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, national director of public relations for the group Gun Owners of America. Such rifles allow people, including women, to shoot a larger gun without having to absorb as much recoil.
“The AR-15 makes it easier for those who are at a physical disadvantage to the attacker to have the upper hand,” she said.
Wednesday’s hearing marked the first time in 20 years that CEOs of leading gun manufacturers have testified about their businesses, Maloney said.