It’s almost the end of the first month of 2023, and sixty-nine people have already been claimed as victims to mass shootings in the United States, two of which occurred in California, a mere days apart from each other.
Given this epidemic, a group of Democratic Senators held a press conference last week to compel the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the marketing tactics around the “JR-15” assault-weapon for children.
Chicago-based gun manufacturers, Schmid Tool and WEE1 Tactical, unveiled the assault-style rifle in 2022. It “looks, feels, and operates just like Mom and Dad’s gun,” but the gun’s logo is a cartoon skull with a pacifier, and promotional material show a boy in a mohawk and a girl in ponytails.
These ploys are coming on the heels of hunting declining as a hobby, which was typically when most owners of guns were gifted their first; and the manufacturers have been searching for a new way to inculcate the next generation, and have turned their focus to children, despite the fact that “[g]un violence is the leading cause of death for young children and teenagers in the United States. In 2020, firearms killed more children and teens than car accidents for the first time.”
As CNN reports, “[a] never-ending roll of mass shootings reflects the reality that while hundreds of millions of citizens go about their daily business safely, no one and nowhere is immune from the possibility of a sudden eruption of violence.”
Backlash against this product is not new—after its launch in 2022, gun violence prevention groups voiced their disapproval. Executive director of the Violence Policy Centre Josh Sugarmann said, “[a]t first glance this comes across as a grotesque joke. On second look, it’s just grotesque.”
Po Murray, co-founder and chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, also released a statement, “The callousness of the National Shooting Sports Foundation to promote a children’s version of the same type of assault rifle that was used in a horrific mass shooting of 20 first graders and six educators in our shared community is just the latest proof that the organisation, and the gun manufacturers it represents, will do anything in pursuit of continued profits.”
At the press conference, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) along with Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) were vociferously outspoken in their critique of this weapon.
Senator Blumenthal likened it to the deceptive tactics formerly utilized by cigarette companies, “The JR-15 may be a smaller version of an assault rifle, but there is nothing smaller about the damage that it can do…This weapon and these ads are the Joe Camel of the arms industry today. The firearms industry has taken a page from Big Tobacco’s book. And here is the lesson of Big Tobacco – we can win. All we need to do is enforce the law. To the FTC I say, use the tools. Use the law that you have right now,” with Senator Durbin echoing that same sentiment, “It’s straight out of the tobacco companies’ playbook. This kind of marketing is reckless. It’s dangerous. And it needs to stop.”
Senator Markey plainly stated, “I am once again calling on the FTC to step up and use its authority to crack down on gunmakers who market their deadly weapons to America’s youth, putting profits over people and sales over safety…The deceptive and deadly marketing behind the ‘JR-15’ is grotesque and reflects the depth of the gun industry’s moral depravity. The FTC must act now to protect our nation’s children.”