Assault rifle manufacturers made $1 billion selling weapons designed for mass murder

Gun Rights

The committee report is relatively short and, again, covers little that industry critics don’t already know. Perhaps the biggest news is that assault rifle sales absolutely soared after the Jan. 6 coup attempt, with gun company revenues from those sales doubling or even tripling those of 2019. That’s only logical, as assault rifles are marketed to aspirational murderers in ways that most other guns aren’t. Or, as the committee report notes, “Gun sales tend to peak in the immediate aftermath of elections, civil unrest, and mass shootings, resulting partly from consumer anxieties and panic-purchasing.”

Gun violence also spiked in 2020 and 2021; Americans aren’t just buying more guns, but using them more often.

All told, gun manufactures have raked in more than $1 billion in revenues in the last decade, benefiting with new surges of sales after every school shooting or other high-visibility act of gun violence. It is a self-sustaining model; marketing guns aimed specifically at the Americans most willing to imagine themselves committing acts of “good” mass violence has lead to spiraling mass violence, which in turn convinces more Americans to purchase the same guns as “self-defense.”

That’s the other main focus of the committee’s report: the increasing eagerness of gun manufacturers to advertise their products not as sport or hunting tools, but as weapons meant to efficiently kill human beings. Among the findings:

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• Gun companies “seek to leverage the military lineage of the AR-15” with ads that (falsely) suggest police and military use their weapons, boosting sales to those who imagine themselves akin to those authority figures and want to be like them. One example among recent shooters would be Kyle Rittenhouse, who wanted a military or law enforcement career and who, in lieu of having such authority, had his mother drive him to a distant Black Lives Matter protest so that he could “protect” the neighborhood with his own assault rifle.

• No, gun companies really “seek to leverage” the supposed military uses of their gear. A Sig Sauer ad, for example, shows five men in pseudo-U.S. soldier uniforms taking up positions inside a damaged building, a reference to any number of recent war zones, while the ad copy touts their assault rifle as “ready for every possible mission.” The advertising is transparently aimed at purchasers who want a weapon designed to do the same thing: hunt and kill humans under cover of possibly imaginary authority. It’s crafted to appeal to the murderously delusional and, of course, to the American militia groups that imagine themselves to be “military” groups training for insurrection. Couch soldiers.

You might recognize the Sig Sauer name from the Las Vegas and Orlando mass murders, two of the highest-casualty mass shootings in recent history. It appears they know their audience well.

• Gun manufacturers and retailers have been marketing their products “directly and indirectly” to white supremacists, using the inclusion of hate symbols and other signifiers used by those groups to identify themselves. Want a rifle patterned with the same sort of Hawaiian floral print worn by the pro-insurrection “Boogaloo” movement? Palmetto State Armory has you covered with the “Big Igloo Aloha” assault rifle. Get it? Just a fun little hat tip to a group preparing itself for imminent “race war.”

• Gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson in particular has been patterning advertisements for their assault products on video games such as Call of Duty, games in which players join virtual combat teams to simulate military operations. There continues to be no evidence that video game violence leads to real-world violence—there has been no uptick of Americans decapitating each other with medieval weaponry, for example—but what are the implications of taking a real world weapon, one that fires real bullets, and advertising it as if it were the real-life equivalent of a murder-focused video game? That’s a bit tougher to answer. Is it intentionally blurring the line between real-world and virtual-world urges?

What’s certain is that assault rifle manufacturers are explicitly advertising their weapons as weapons for murdering other humans. Not for sport hunting. Not for target shooting. These are weapons to buy if you want to be prepared to carry out military-styled “missions” against other human beings. They are marketed toward people who believe they might need to commit a mass murder, and who believe it strongly enough that they’re willing to pay a great deal of money to prepare for that day.

The gun companies know this and market accordingly. It’s also the reason why sales of the specific assault rifles used in each mass murder tend to soar in the weeks after the killings; that weapon has, after all, now proven itself effective in doing the one thing it was designed to do.

Again, as example: The murder of 19 grade-school children and two of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, in May was, for gun manufacturers, a resounding success. It is an advertisement that will boost their revenues for a long time to come. An 18-year-old with no training and who had just purchased his assault rifle (from Daniel Defense, one of the companies that seems to be most aggressive in promoting their products as mass-murder weapons) was able to enter a school and kill everyone who came into his line of vision. His purchased weapon was powerful enough, and capable of rapid-enough shooting, to hold off dozens, then hundreds of trained law enforcement officers for an extended period.

This is precisely what assault rifle manufacturers promote their products to be capable of. They advertise each rifle as a pseudo-military weapon that allows even the untrained to kill a large number of people quickly. They advertise their products as effective in holding off large numbers of attackers, allowing the purchaser to become a one-man protector of his family or neighborhood.

And, of course, since mass murderers are buying these weapons in droves, you need to buy these same weapons to stand a chance against them. Maybe buying one isn’t enough.

What’s been clear for some time is that mass shootings in America are a product of a gun industry that has increasingly catered to the militia version of gun ownership, the twitchy version that imagines disaster or revolution and seeks weapons capable of standing against law enforcement or military opponents—or just food-seeking neighbors. The five men in paramilitary outfits in a Sig Sauer ad are not taking cover in a shelled urban office in an effort to hunt deer. They are there to kill human enemies. This weapon, the Sig Sauer advertisement boasts, will allow you to kill human enemies.

None of this is new. The militia movement’s adoption into mainstream Republicanism, such that even national Republican lawmakers insist assault rifles are needed in case angry American citizens need to kill American lawmakers, and especially the National Rifle Association’s turn from sport advocacy organization to militia-promoting, apocalypse-focused pro-murder group, has paralleled a gun company push into the “good murder” market, a market specifically premised on a theoretical need to at some point kill other human beings with sufficient speed and power to ensure you can’t be stopped. The companies are marketing their products towards aspirational mass murderers, and get new windfalls every time some American goes out and proves that their products really can overwhelm police and execute arbitrarily chosen enemies.

It’s a market that shouldn’t exist in any modern nation; it’s transparently premised on allowing individual citizens to decide what circumstances ought to require mass murder as a response. That’s asinine. It’s absurd. But the far-right premises of national rebirth through mass execution of ideological enemies has enough support within government itself—and within the Supreme Court—as to have now been written into the the national psyche as a new “right.”

It would be unrecognizable to past generations, but here we are; even the regular mass shootings inside schools and supermarkets are angrily brushed aside as necessary sacrifices to ensure the good murders can happen if and when they become necessary. Gun manufacturers are making money hand over fist, or corpse over corpse, selling assault weapons to Americans who want to protect themselves from all the other assault weapon-wielding Americans in their midst.

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First lawsuits take shape as Uvalde teacher, victim’s father target Daniel Defense’s advertising

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