The firearms industry recently partied in Las Vegas at its largest event of the year, the annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show. Outside the invite-only event, passionate members of Students Demand Action did everything they could to remind the gun industry of its role in the latest harrowing statistic of the gun violence epidemic: Guns are now the leading cause of death for children and teens in America.
But it’s unlikely the industry executives at SHOT Show cared enough to listen. And it’s doubtful that news of two mass shootings in under 36 hours in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California, killing 18 and wounding several others, will do much to make them rethink their dangerous yet lucrative business model: More gun sales leads to more gun deaths, which leads to more fear and thus more gun sales.
One item not on the SHOT Show agenda is responsibility. If you were to have walked the “13.9 miles of aisles” at the expo, you’d find companies displaying hundreds of assault weapons that are even more powerful than the one recovered from the Monterey Park shooter—like the Bushmaster, Daniel Defense, and Smith & Wesson AR-15-style rifles used in last summer’s Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park shootings, respectively.
But within the show’s convention center—or at the outdoor “SHOT After Dark” concert—you wouldn’t know those shootings ever happened, let alone that the country’s deadliest mass shooting took place just two miles down the Strip. Gun companies have not only doubled down on AR-15s, producing and selling millions more every year, but they’ve also created smaller-caliber versions to get children hooked on these guns; they reference movies, TV shows, and video games in advertisements and social media posts to appeal to teens; and they use images of our soldiers to appeal to young men with militaristic fantasies.
Assault weapons are just the tip of the iceberg. The SHOT Show is replete with “innovations” that make weapons more deadly or that circumvent federal law—including triggers that simulate automatic weapons fire, braces that create easily concealable short-barreled rifles, and untraceable “ghost guns.” But you won’t see major manufacturers offering innovations that make a gun as childproof as, say, a bottle of aspirin. Nor, as gun thefts reach all time highs, will you see these gun makers introduce a gun that can’t be used if stolen, like smartphone makers did in response to the rise of “Apple picking.”
Worse yet, gun makers refuse to police their own supply chains to make it harder for criminals to obtain their products. Between 2017 and 2021, law enforcement recovered and successfully traced an astounding 1.4 million crime guns, but there is no evidence that gun makers cut ties with dealers who willfully violate the law and transfer firearms to criminals. This includes a Georgia gun dealer that sold more than 6,000 crime guns from 2014 to 2019, approximately 10 percent of all the store’s sales, and which accounted “for more than half of Georgia’s reported guns later recovered at crime scenes.” Yet gun manufacturers have testified that they can’t track the criminal misuse of their products or dealers who fail ATF inspections—as if there is no conceivable way to know their customers, even though the pharmaceutical, banking, and so many other industries regularly do so.
To be sure, one reason the gun industry has refused to act is because it is uniquely protected. Its bodyguard, the NRA, has seen to it that the industry enjoys broad immunity from lawsuits and that information about the sellers of crime guns is hard to come by, even though these protections have nothing to do with the Second Amendment rights of individuals.
What does a well-protected, indifferent gun industry get us? Each year, approximately 40,000 Americans are killed with guns, and twice as many are wounded. In 2021 alone, there were over 700 road rage incidents involving firearms that left more than 500 people wounded or killed, and at least 392 unintentional shootings by children. For the approximately $9 billion in revenue the gun industry enjoys each year, it externalizes the costs of gun violence of over $557 billion on the rest of us.
The good news is that things are changing. We have a better-funded ATF under recently confirmed Director Steve Dettlebach that can crack down on rogue gun dealers; lawsuits against assault weapons manufacturers Smith & Wesson, Daniel Defense, and Remington for irresponsible marketing practices; and several states passing laws that provide a path to hold the gun industry accountable in court, with more on the way. Just before Glock executives celebrated a banner year at SHOT Show, the company got some bad news: Mayors Against Illegal Guns mayors from 31 cities pooled their data and revealed that Glock is the number one seller of crime guns across their cities, with more than 10,500 guns recovered in crimes in 2021 alone.
Last Monday in Las Vegas, members of Students Demand Action got up in the predawn hours to line the route to SHOT Show’s “Range Day” with signs that simply said, “Guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens.” These young people just want to survive going to school, the grocery store, and community events. It’s time for the firearm industry to account for its costs to society. It’s time for them to listen.
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Nick Suplina (he/him/his)
Nick Suplina is the Senior Vice President of Law & Policy for Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation’s largest gun violence prevention organization. Students Demand Action is the grassroots students arm of Everytown for Gun Safety.
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