FFrom 1995 to 2020 I worked for the firearms manufacturer Kimber. As the industry began to embrace extremism and conspiracy, I did what I could to defend myself from within. When industry marketing celebrated armed vigilantism to sell guns, I left.
I’m still a proud gun owner who believes in accountability. These days, I use my platform to advocate for common sense gun safety measures and speak out against dangerous and toxic marketing in the industry – which is why I was asked to testify before the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform last week.
Like the others appearing, including two CEOs of gun companies, I was asked to submit written testimony for the official record of Congress. I was warned that I would be under oath and prepared for the possibility that the highly publicized large hearing would last several hours and include direct attacks on me. All of that happened – but that’s not why testifying was so scary.
The reason I found the hearing so chilling is that it showed more clearly than ever that the gun companies and their leaders have completely abdicated their responsibilities and their common sense. Their industry is openly marketing – and in the process perhaps even creating – the next generation of mass shooters, all in service of their bottom line.
At the beginning of these types of hearings, each witness has time to address the committee. I described how firearms like the AR-15 were pariah before 2008. In less than 15 years, however, they have become both a powerful authoritative symbol and also the daily bread of the industry.
I said that there is no longer a place in the firearms industry for anyone who believes in moderation or responsible regulation. If they existed, they have long been frightened into submission or expelled. Although guns are at the center of radicalized domestic terrorism, there has been no industry rebuke of the “come and take it” flags of the January 6 insurgency, gunmen invading the capital of Michigan, or of Kyle Rittenhouse killing people in a protest with his Smith & Wesson Military & Police-line rifle.
This is exactly what I witnessed during the five hour hearing last week. Alarmingly, but not shockingly, the two firearms industry leaders called to testify – Marty Daniel, CEO of Daniel Defense, and Christopher Killloy, Chairman and CEO of Ruger – refused to take responsibility for the role of firearms and the marketing of the industry in the deterioration of our country. series of mass shootings and gun violence.
In light of the white supremacist shooting in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 black grocers, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Daniel about one of her company’s advertisements, which featured a gunman with a known Norse tattoo. to be favored by white supremacists and by shaman QAnon. Daniel looked surprised. Unfortunately, I was not surprised.
Despite both being board members of the industry trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), Killoy and Daniel have refused to disown other industry members for making marketing to “Boogaloo Boys” extremists by making a weapon with the same floral pattern. worn by the far-right group.
The NSSF, which represents virtually all gun companies, has itself become increasingly extreme in recent years: the group claims to support gun safety but has actually spent about 5% of its revenue in security initiatives in recent years. Much of the rest of the budget was spent creating a market where any new gun customer or gun marketing is embraced, no matter how extreme or irresponsible.
During the hearing, Daniel and Killoy declined to condemn ads crafted by NSSF members, including a Spike’s Tactical ad depicting an armed confrontation with antifa. A particularly disturbing post from Daniel Defense depicts a young child cradling an AR-15, accompanied by the biblical text: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not deviate from it.”
The photo was posted to social media on May 16, just days before an 18-year-old used a Daniel Defense rifle to murder 19 school children in Uvalde, Texas. The photo has since been deleted. Asked about the ad, Daniel defended it, saying it was meant to teach kids about gun safety.
Unfortunately, industry extremism is now supported by Republicans, who have invited a witness from Gun Owners of America (GOA) – a group so extreme that it calls for the abolition of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – as one of their specialists.
As someone who was on the inside, I’m here to warn you that there’s a lot more of this marketing going on, and it’s likely to get worse. Nobody in the industry will stop it. It is up to responsible gun owners and those who care about our country and the freedom of all citizens to speak out against this blatantly irresponsible behavior and in favor of common sense laws such as universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders.
If we don’t, I fear the next congressional hearing will be even more troubling than this one.