Complaint Lays Out Substantial Evidence That Company’s Marketing is Unfair & Deceptive; Targets Consumers Drawn to Risky, Thrill-Seeking Behavior
The Complainants Include Include 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 – Fred Guttenberg, Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady on Monday released a complaint calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Smith & Wesson’s advertising and promotion of its M&P line of assault rifles, citing substantial evidence the company uses unfair and deceptive practices to market the rifles to young, male consumers — a demographic that includes a disproportionate number of the shooters in the 10 most destructive mass shootings of the past decade.
“No family should have to experience what ours has,” said Fred Guttenberg, father of Jaime Guttenberg. “But far too many have — and far too many have had a loved one killed with a rifle in this particular product line. Gun manufacturers have an important role to play in preventing future tragedies. In fact, if they believe what they say about these weapons being for hunting and sport only, I would ask them to join me on gun safety and lowering the gun violence death rate. Today’s complaint is an important step forward in our fight for accountability and reform.”
Prior to joining the current complaint to the FTC, Fred Guttenberg also filed a lawsuit in Florida state court in May 2018 seeking a judicial declaration that Florida’s gun industry immunity law does not apply to lawsuits filed by victims of gun violence.
“With this complaint, we’re working to revoke the ‘Get Out of Court Free’ card the gun industry has enjoyed for years, and hold Smith & Wesson accountable for its dangerous and deceptive marketing practices,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Just as the FTC helped put an end to Joe Camel and the tobacco industry’s attempts to hook young smokers, the agency needs to make it clear that Smith & Wesson must abide by the same rules as every other American company.”
“For over a decade, Smith & Wesson has marketed assault rifles to civilians and, in particular, young men and children,” said Brady President Kris Brown. “To market ‘military and police’ weapons to individuals who are neither and in full knowledge that these weapons are not only capable of mass harm but are the weapon of choice for mass shooters is wanton and reckless. We believe it has contributed to numerous mass shootings with many casualties over the years. It is long past time to hold Smith & Wesson to account, and the FTC must do so.”
The complaint presents 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 alleges that these marketing strategies are targeted at young male consumers, a demographic known to be particularly attracted to risky, thrill-seeking behavior.
The complaint calls on the FTC to investigate and consider ordering the Massachusetts-based firearms manufacturer to:
- cease the use of military imagery and associations in its M&P rifle advertisements aimed at civilian purchasers
- incorporate into all ads appropriate warnings about the dangers of M&P rifles
- cease promotion of M&P rifles on social media disproportionately used by young people and in advertisements that mimic video games.