The owners of Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the rifle apparently used in the massacre of 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., are deep-pocketed Republican donors, giving to candidates and committees at the federal and state level aligned against limits on access to assault rifles and other semiautomatic weapons.
The owners of the Georgia-based company have donated more than $70,000 directly to GOP candidates for federal office this election cycle, according to a review of filings with the Federal Election Commission. Daniel Defense itself gave $100,000 last year to a PAC backing incumbent Republican senators.
The spending by Marvin C. Daniel and his wife, Cindy D. Daniel, illustrates the financial clout of the gun industry, even as political spending by the flagship National Rifle Association has declined in recent years. And it shows how surging gun sales during the coronavirus pandemic have empowered manufacturers to expand their marketing and political advocacy, experts said.
“The ability of the industry to use money to advance its policy agenda has increased given the dramatic rise in firearm sales that we’ve seen over the last two or three years,” said Timothy D. Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University. “The industry is much better equipped to further its lobbying interests, independent of the NRA.”
The beneficiaries of the couple’s political contributions include at least one candidate who emerged victorious in Tuesday’s primary contests, Herschel Walker. The former football star is running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia with former president Donald Trump’s endorsement. Asked Tuesday night whether he would support new gun legislation, Walker said, “What I like to do is see it and everything and stuff.”
Recent recipients of spending by Daniel and his wife also include Republican Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa), Tim Scott (S.C.) and John Neely Kennedy (La.), as well as Eric Schmitt, the attorney general of Missouri and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in that state.
None of their offices or campaigns responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for Daniel Defense also did not respond. A statement posted on the company’s website says “it is our understanding that the firearm used in the attack was manufactured by Daniel Defense. We will cooperate with all federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities in their investigations.”
The arms maker, based in Black Creek, Ga., near the South Carolina state line, with a second facility across the border in Ridgeland, S.C., put $100,000 into a super PAC that backed the Republican incumbents in last year’s Georgia runoff elections. And Daniel and his wife have put $20,000 this cycle into the National Shooting Sports Foundation PAC, whose largest beneficiaries are Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 1 and No. 2 House Republicans.
At the state level, Daniel and his wife have also given thousands in recent years to candidates in Georgia, where Daniel founded the company in 2000, according to its website. That includes $2,400 earlier this year to Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), the Trump-backed challenger to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The incumbent Republican defeated Hice by nearly 19 points on Tuesday. None of the contributions have gone to Democrats.
Daniel Defense had been scheduled to feature its wares at this weekend’s NRA meeting in Houston, where Trump, along with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Tex.), are expected to deliver remarks, though the governor’s office said Thursday his would be prerecorded. An online calendar of events lists appearances by celebrity shooters at Daniel Defense’s designated booth. But an exhibitor list no longer includes the company, and a floor plan shows Daniel Defense’s original location, booth 4839, now belonging to the NRA.
The rifle reportedly used in the shooting, the DDM4 V7, sells for about $2,000, according to Daniel Defense’s website. Promotional material on the company’s Facebook page includes a photo of the rifle leaning against a refrigerator and the caption, “Let’s normalize kitchen Daniels. What Daniel do you use to protect your family and home?” Another post describes the DDM4 V7 model as a “perfect do all rifle.”
And an image posted on the company’s Twitter account shows a child handling a rifle with the caption, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Shortly after the shooting, the company locked its Twitter account.
The company’s advertising strategy has previously been a source of controversy. A minute-long spot it submitted to Fox for the Super Bowl in 2014 was rejected because of the NFL’s rules against advertisements for “firearms, ammunition or other weapons.” Conservative media took up the company’s cause, and Daniel Defense labeled the promotional material “the best Super Bowl ad that never was.”
Political contributions by the gun manufacturer, while modest in the era of unlimited giving to super PACs and other causes, reinforce the identification of the gun lobby with the Republican Party and “keeps open the door of access,” said Robert J. Spitzer, a political scientist at SUNY Cortland and the author of “The Politics of Gun Control.”
That’s especially important for manufacturers in light of efforts to overcome the immunity granted by Congress to gun companies, which have traditionally shielded them from litigation when their products are used to commit crimes, said Donald P. Haider-Markel, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas. In 2019, the Connecticut Supreme Court cleared the way for a lawsuit brought by families of victims against companies behind the semiautomatic rifle used in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Since then, there has been a rush to shore up politicians who are seen as likely to support the gun industry on this issue,” Haider-Markel said.
Increasingly, candidates make clear where they stand in the bluntest of ways, said Lytton, the Georgia State professor. He pointed to a campaign poster for Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.), one of the beneficiaries of recent donations from Daniel and his wife. The poster includes Clyde’s name, the office he’s seeking and a silhouette of a rifle. A spokesman for Clyde, a first-term congressman who owns a gun store in Athens, Ga., declined to comment.
“In north Georgia, the semiautomatic rifle has replaced the flag as the primary signifier of a particular congressional candidate’s political alignment,” Lytton said.