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Gunmakers made over $1 billion in assault weapon sales in the past decade, congressional report finds

AR-15-style gun sales topped $1B in 10 years
AR-15-style gun sales topped $1B in 10 years, report finds 03:02

An investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found that manufacturers of the firearms used in some of the nation's deadliest mass shootings have made over $1 billion in revenue from military-style assault-rifles in the past decade. 

The committee said the industry reaped those profits in part through marketing and sales tactics aimed at enticing civilians into purchasing military-style weapons — especially targeting younger men with opportunities to purchase expensive firearms on credit, and by subtly referencing extremist groups, for instance invoking imagery identified with these groups. The findings were published ahead of an Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday on the marketing practices and the profits of the country's top five gun manufacturers. 

Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said the companies market the weapons "to children, preying on young men's insecurities, and even appealing to violent white supremacists." 

During the hearing, the committee heard from the CEOs of two of those manufacturers, Christopher Killoy, president and chief executive of Sturm, Ruger & Co, and Marty Daniel, CEO of Daniel Defense. A rifle used in the recent mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that was used to kill 21 students and teachers was made by Daniel Defense.

Smith & Wesson, President and CEO, Mark P. Smith was invited to testify but ultimately did not appear at the hearing. The committee announced it will be subpoenaing the company for documents. 

"A firearm, any firearm, can be used for good or for evil. The difference is in the intent of the individual possessing it, which we respectfully submit should be the focus of any investigation into the root causes of criminal violence involving firearms," Killoy told the committee in his opening statement. "

The committee, which was led by the Democratic lawmakers, produced an investigation into Smith & Wesson, Bushmaster, Ruger, Daniel Defense and Sig Sauer that alleged that the manufacturers engaged in "disturbing sales tactics" that targeted young men as a means to "prove their manliness," according to the report.

The committee also noted that despite the rise in gun violence and the pervasiveness of mass shootings, that rifle sales have continued to increase. 

Smith & Wesson, the manufacturer of the firearms used at the massacres in Highland Park, Parkland, and San Bernardino, has made at least $695 million in revenue from AR-1-style rifle sales alone in the past decade.  Between 2019 and 2021, its revenues more than doubled from all long guns, from $108 million to $253 million.

Daniel Defense tripled its revenues of its AR-15-style rifles from $40 million in 2019 to over $120 million in 2021. Since 2012 Daniel Defense has made $528 Million from AR-15 style rifles.

Ruger's earnings followed a similar trend, tripling from $39 million in 2019 to over $103 million in 2021. Over the past decade its AR-15-style firearm revenue totaled $514 million. Ruger's weapons were used in the massacres at Sutherland Springs that left 25 dead, and Boulder, Colorado, resulting in the deaths of 10 people.

Sig Sauer refused to provide the committee with figures that would detail the revenues from AR-15 style rifles. Its firearms were used in the mass shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, which killed 49 people, and at a Las Vegas music festival where 60 died.

Bushmaster only provided the committee with revenue figures for 2021, citing its recent acquisition by another company, and disclosed that it had earned $2.9 million from the sales of AR-15-style rifles. Bushmaster firearms were used in the racially motivated shooting in Buffalo, New York that killed 10 people, and in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where 27 died.

Maloney, said the committee found the manufacturers had engaged in "dangerous marketing tactics" as part of their efforts to sell assault weapons.

"None of these companies take even basic steps to monitor the deaths and injuries caused by their products," Maloney said. "That is beyond irresponsible."

She asked the CEOs of Ruger and Daniel Defense whether they would accept responsibiity for their companies' roles in mass murders that took place in places like Southerland Springs, Highland Park and Uvalde, and whether they would apologize to victims and their families. 

"Chairwoman Maloney, these acts are committed by murderers. The murderers are responsible," Daniel replied.

"Congresswoman, with all due respect, while I grieve like all Americans at these tragic incidents," Killoy said. "To blame the firearm is [to blame] an inanimate object."

Earlier this month, advocates from Everytown for Gun Safety filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking it to investigate the marketing practices of Daniel Defense, alleging the manufacturer violates the law by "marketing assault weapons to the civilian market with violent and militaristic imagery" and "appealing particularly to the thrill-seeking and impulsive tendencies of susceptible teens and young men who are attracted to violence and military fantasies."

The FTC declined to comment regarding investigation requests but told CBS News it has not taken any legal action against gun manufacturers. CBS News has reviewed similar complaints against gun manufacturers brought to the FTC since 1996 but has not found any evidence that the agency has ever taken any action against the industry for its marketing practices. 

Daniel Defense's marketing has drawn particular scrutiny since the Uvalde shooting for targeting "at-risk young men." Its Instagram account features photos of members of the military holding its weapons, as well as celebrities such as actor Josh Brolin in "Sicario 2" and Post Malone wielding its products. Promotional videos from the manufacturer also feature dramatizations of  law enforcement and military drills using their weapons. 

The committee's report cites Palmetto State Armory's "Big Igloo Aloha" AK-47-style assault rifle which is designed with a floral pattern, a reference to the Boogaloo movement, a violent far right, anti-government group which is often associated with wearing floral-print shirts. The committee found that Daniel Defense posted an Instagram photo in June 2021 of its M4A1 assault rifle that had been accessorized with a similar floral pattern.

The committee began investigating the manufacturers in May after the mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo.

None of the five manufacturers immediately responded to CBS News' request for comment. 

The House is scheduled to vote on Friday on the first assault weapons ban proposed since 1994. 

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