Type of Rifle Used by Teenage Shooter in Kenosha is the Subject of Complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, Which Lays Out Substantial Evidence That Smith & Wesson’s Marketing is Unfair & Deceptive; Targets Young Consumers Drawn to Risky, Thrill-Seeking Behavior
Gun Safety Groups Filed the FTC Complaint Last June On Behalf of Fred Guttenberg, Whose Daughter Jaime Guttenberg Was Killed With a Smith & Wesson Assault Rifle In the Mass Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
WASHINGTON – Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady, two national gun violence prevention organizations, are urging Wisconsin regulators to investigate Smith & Wesson’s marketing of the type of assault rifle used in last year’s shootings at a Kenosha racial justice protest after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, highlighting evidence that the marketing used to sell the rifles targets young consumers drawn to risky, thrill-seeking behavior.
In a letter sent to Wisconsin regulators, the groups shared their prior complaint to the Federal Trade Commission — sent less than three months before the Kenosha protest shootings — which cited substantial evidence that Smith & Wesson uses unfair and deceptive practices to market its M&P line of rifles to young, male consumers as associated with the U.S. military — a demographic that includes a disproportionate number of the shooters in the 10 most destructive mass shootings since January 2009. The evidence indicates that Smith & Wesson exploits the known attraction of this demographic to the excitement, risk, and aggression associated with the military and law enforcement. Arguing that such practices may constitute unfair trade practices in violation of Wisconsin consumer protection law, Everytown and Brady urged Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to investigate.
“Companies selling firearms have both legal and moral obligations when it comes to their marketing, and when they fail to meet them, they put lives at stake,” said Alla Lefkowitz, director of affirmative litigation for Everytown for Gun Safety. “It is no coincidence that Smith & Wesson’s M&P rifles have been used in combat-like assaults by teenagers repeatedly in recent years — from Parkland, Florida, to Poway, California, to Kenosha, Wisconsin.”
“Countless shootings have shown the dangers posed by military-style assault weapons, and that danger is greatly increased by marketing them to attract adolescent men with stylized campaigns mimicking first-person shooter video games and implying military and law enforcement endorsement,” said Brady Wisconsin Program Manager Anneliese Dickman. “Kyle Rittenhouse’s alleged murderous acts are just one of many examples of this marketing strategy threatening the American public and costing lives. We urge the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to investigate Smith & Wesson’s practices and stop the marketing of these weapons to vulnerable young people.”
As stated in the letter and in court documents, the teenager who shot three people in Kenosha last August 25, two of them fatally, had allegedly purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P rifle by using a 19-year-old straw purchaser. The letter states:
[The shooter] fits the consumer profile targeted by Smith & Wesson: He is young, enamored with law enforcement, involved with self-styled “militias,” and was a prolific social media user prior to the shooting. As his actions demonstrate, he was also prone to the impulsive and risky behavior associated with the adolescent and post-adolescent demographic targeted by Smith & Wesson.
Last June, Everytown and Brady asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Smith & Wesson’s advertising and promotion of its M&P line of assault rifles, presenting evidence that Smith & Wesson sought to grow the civilian market for its assault rifles by deceptively marketing them as associated with the U.S. military, a strategy intended to enhance the credibility of its firearms in the eyes of civilian consumers. Former Smith & Wesson CEO, James Debney, has referred to the credibility gained by law enforcement use of its firearms as “the halo effect.” In reality, investigation indicates that Smith & Wesson has not secured a major U.S. military contract for its firearms since at least 2009. In addition, the company relies on advertisements that resemble first-person-shooter video games, and promise thrill-seekers that they will “Experience More Adrenaline.” The complaint alleged that these marketing strategies are targeted at young male consumers.