The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Assault weapons are deadly. But manufacturers care only about profits.

Marty Daniel, chief executive of Daniel Defense, testifies remotely during a hearing examining the practice of gun manufacturers on July 27 in Washington. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Over the past week, a Florida jury has listened as medical examiners testified in excruciating detail about the autopsies they performed on the 14 students and three staff members murdered in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Jurors heard how bullets fired from the AR-15-style rifle hit the victims with such force that they caused extensive and devastating damage, while the weapon’s rapid fire action magnified the carnage. Alaina Petty, 14, was shot four times; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14, was shot eight times; Carmen Schentrup, 16, was shot five times; Meadow Pollack, 16, was shot nine times.

That gruesome account — and the pain of parents who sobbed or fled the courtroom — resonated as we listened to the indifferent testimony of executives of companies that market assault weapons such as the one used in the Parkland school slaughter. Appearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, leading manufacturers of assault weapons that have been used in the country’s deadliest mass shootings said they bear absolutely no responsibility for the violence.

“I believe that these murders are a local problem that have to be solved locally,” said Marty Daniel of Daniel Defense, which manufactured the AR-15-style rifle that an 18-year-old used in May to murder 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex. “I don’t consider what my company produces to be ‘weapons of war,’ ” said Christopher Killoy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., which produced the weapons used by mass shooters in Sutherland Springs, Tex., in 2017 and Boulder, Colo., in 2021.

There is no question, as the gun manufacturers argued, that the individuals who pull the trigger are culpable for their terrible crimes. The gunman in the Parkland shooting has pleaded guilty; the jury hearing the penalty phase of his trial will determine whether he is to be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole. But gun companies can’t wash their hands of responsibility for the damage caused by their products — particularly when their marketing strategies are designed to appeal to angry, insecure, young males — the very demographic that is increasingly the profile of mass shooters. “Consider your man card reissued,” read one advertisement. Another: “Your status at the top of the testosterone food chain is now irrevocable.” To make it easier to obtain the weapons, the companies offer generous credit plans.

A report released by the House committee found that the country’s top five gun manufacturers have collected more than $1 billion in revenue over the past decade, much of it from the sales of assault-style weapons. At the same time, they have failed to take even basic steps to monitor the violence associated with their products. None of the companies have systems to track injuries and deaths caused by AR-15-style rifles, whether from accidental discharge, product malfunction or deliberate use. Nor do they monitor crimes committed with the products.

It’s no surprise that the gun manufacturers fail to collect data that might make their products safer. Congress has provided them unique protection from legal liability. As a consequence, there is no disincentive to their irresponsible business practices when it nets them record-breaking profits. One would have hoped that Petty, Anguiano, Schentrup, Pollack and the other children lost to gun violence might give the gun industry some pause. Since that is clearly not the case, it is up to Congress to crack down.

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