Gunmakers made $1 billion selling AR-15s to civilians, study finds

Major U.S. gunmakers marketing a weapon used in a number of mass shootings have tallied more than $1 billion in revenue from selling the firearms to civilians during the past 10 years, according to a report released on Wednesday. 

Five manufacturers — Daniel Defense, Smith & Wesson, Sturm Ruger, Sig Sauer and Bushmaster Firearms — collectively sell thousands of military-style semiautomatic rifles to civilians every year, according to the findings of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The marketing of AR-15s has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and gun safety advocates following several mass shootings that involved the firearm, including the Uvalde shooting that left 19 children and 2 teachers dead. The shootings have renewed calls for regulations that would either ban or restrict sales of AR-15s, with a recent complaint alleging the firearms are marketed to teens and young men “who are attracted to violence and military fantasies.”

Gunmakers who appeared at a Wednesday hearing held by the House Oversight Committee defended their products, blaming “evil” people for the deaths in recent shootings that involved the firearms. 

“I am deeply disturbed by these horrific acts committed by evil people,” said Marty Daniels, the CEO of Daniels Defense, whose firearm was used in the Uvalde shooting. He later added, “I believe that these murders are local problems that have to be solved locally.”

In a prepared statement, Daniels said that he was concerned the hearing was focusing on a “type of firearm that was used in fewer than 4% of the homicides that involved firearms in 2019.”

While gun manufacturers are profiting from the increasing popularity of AR-15 firearms, gunfire victims and their families are confronted with the equivalent in hospital bills. A separate report released last week by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee found gun violence victims and their families pay more than $1 billion a year in medical costs. 

Surge in gun sales

The report said its findings are based on data provided by five gun manufacturers whose weapons have been used in mass shootings. Georgia-based Daniel Defense saw its revenue from AR-15-style rifles triple to more than $120 million last year from $40 million in 2019, the House committee found.

Ruger’s earnings from such weapons did almost as well, nearly tripling to $103 million in 2021 from $39 million two years earlier, the report noted. Smith & Wesson’s revenue from all long guns, including AR-15-style rifles, more than doubled to $253 million from $108 million in that same time, it said. 

AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles and similar firearms are sold on credit by companies that don’t track or monitor related deaths or injuries but market the weapons to young men as a way to show their masculinity, the panel said in summarizing its probe into the sale and marketing of assault weapons. 

“The business practices of these gun manufacturers are deeply disturbing, exploitative and reckless,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York and chair of the committee, said in a statement. “These companies use aggressive marketing tactics to target young people — especially young men.”

Gun control advocates recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission calling for a probe of the marketing practices of Daniel Defense, saying the company targets young men like the Uvalde shooter through first-person shooter video games such as “Call of Duty” and via social media images with pop-culture elements that are attractive to teens and children.

—With reporting by Aimee Picchi.

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