'The gun industry has flooded our neighborhoods': House hearing highlights assault-style weapons

ByJosh Campbell, Kristin Wilson and Lauren Koenig, CNNWire
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
Gun company CEOs answer questions on Capitol Hill
CEOs from two major gun manufacturers faced questions from lawmakers in Washington about their sales of AR-15 style weapons.

WASHINGTON -- Gun manufactures selling assault-style rifles have employed questionable marketing tactics, including appealing to White supremacists, "preying" on the masculinity of young men, and running advertisements that mimic video games, according to an investigation by the Democrat-led House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

In a hearing Wednesday, CEOs from two major gun manufacturers faced questions from lawmakers about their sales of AR-15 style weapons, which have been used in many of the nation's deadliest mass shootings.

"This is an ultra-deadly weapon, engineered to kill enemy soldiers on the battlefield," said the committee chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York. "Yet the gun industry has flooded our neighborhoods, our schools, and even our churches and synagogues with these deadly weapons and has gotten rich doing it."

Maloney said the committee's investigation found five of the largest gun manufacturers made over a billion dollars during the last decade from sales of assault-style weapons to civilians.

She opened the hearing by saying she intends to subpoena the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson for documents related to the sale and marketing of the company's AR-style semiautomatic rifles and similar firearms. The CEO of Smith & Wesson, Mark P. Smith, was invited but did not attend.

"His company is the second-leading rifle manufacturer in the country, and is responsible for the weapons used by mass murderers in Highland Park, in Parkland, and in other mass shootings," Maloney said.

CNN has reached out to Smith & Wesson for comment and have not yet received a response.

The two company CEOs who attended and testified -- Christopher Killoy of Ruger and Marty Daniel of Daniel Defense -- denied their products are illegal and defended the gun industry's ability to market and sell assault-style weapons.

Citing a recent Supreme Court decision expanding the rights of gun owners, Daniel told the committee, "The enshrinement of Constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table, including those that would diminish the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans, such as banning common and popular guns."

Republicans on the committee condemned their Democratic counterparts for targeting private companies and sought to deflect blame away from guns and toward progressive policies they say have led to increased violent crime in some cities.

"Ironically, cities with the worst crime rates are the hardest places to buy guns," said the committee's top Republican, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky. "Republicans want to target criminals. Democrats want to target lawful gun owners and take away their guns."

Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican from Georgia, said blaming gun manufactures for gun violence is similar to blaming the makers of forks and spoons for obesity.

Wednesday's hearing began with a video montage of victims of gun violence demanding reform, including those impacted by mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Highland Park, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; and Parkland, Florida.

Anna Rodriguez, whose 10-year-old daughter Maite was killed in May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, described her child's dream of one day going to college and becoming a marine biologist.

"Maite was robbed of her future due to gun violence," Rodriguez said.

Asked by Maloney how many more American children need to die before the company Daniel Defense would stop selling assault-style weapons, the company's CEO said, "I believe that these murders are local problems that have to be solved locally."

"Is there any number of shootings in schools that would convince you to stop selling weapons of war to civilians?" Maloney asked Christopher Killoy of Ruger.

"Respectfully, Congresswoman, I don't consider the modern sporting rifles that my company produces to be weapons of war," he said, "and like all Americans I grieve when we read about these tragic incidents."

In a heated exchange between committee members, Republican Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana suggested any legislation banning assault-style rifles could result in gun owners opening fire on FBI agents and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives if the government tries to confiscate guns from homes.

"When those gun fights happen, that blood will be on your hands," said Higgins, addressing the Democratic members of the committee.

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia blasted Higgins' suggestion, yelling, "We will not be threatened with violence and bloodshed because we want reasonable gun control!"

Outside the hearing room, Higgins was confronted by a survivor of the Highland Park shooting, Ashbey Beasley, who was frustrated with Higgin's argument that the goal of the committee was to take guns away from law abiding citizens.

Higgins told her that changing the Constitution "is always a bad idea" because "the Founders got it right."

"If you don't think these guys in this body ... if you don't think they'll come door to door to seize your weapons, you're wrong," he said to her.

"Have you ever run from a mass shooter because you were being shot at?" Beasley asked.

Higgins responded that he was a SWAT officer for 12 years.

"So don't you know what it feels like?" she asked.

Higgins did not answer the question.

In the audience during Wednesday's hearing was Jazmin Cazares, whose sister died in the Uvalde shooting.

Cazares told CNN it was eye opening seeing members of Congress debating gun safety in-person, and it was clear to her which representatives did not appear to care about preventing shootings.

"You can tell they're not sincere," she said about some of the representatives at the hearing. "They don't care that kids are dying, and if they say they (do care) they're lying because you can see it in their face."

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