Gunmaker tied to Uvalde accused of marketing to ‘at-risk’ young men

Author: Aimee Picchi / CBS
Published: Updated:
A child holds a gun. Credit: CBS

Gun control advocates have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking it to investigate the marketing practices of Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of a rifle used by the gunman in the deadly Uvalde elementary school shooting.

In a July 15 complaint to the FTC, the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety alleges that Daniel Defense is violating the law by “marketing assault weapons to the civilian market with violent and militaristic imagery” and “appealing particularly to the thrill-seeking and impulsive tendencies of susceptible teens and young men who are attracted to violence and military fantasies.”

The Uvalde gunman, who killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, legally purchased two AR-style rifles soon after he turned 18. One of those rifles was a Daniel Defense product, which the complaint alleges was marketed by the gunmaker as “extremely maneuverable and easy to move around barriers,” which the group claims is “a description more apt for combat, as opposed to hunting or target shooting.”

The complaint also flags Daniel Defense for marketing its guns through first-person shooter video games such as “Call of Duty” and via social media images with pop-culture elements that are attractive to teens and children, such as one post of musician Post Malone holding a Daniel Defense rifle.

“What it is, is a direct advertising to young people to buy weapons of war,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told CBS News’ Catherine Herridge.

Daniel Defense didn’t respond to a request for comment from CBS News. The FTC said it doesn’t comment on individual cases.

Marketing targets teens and young adults

Gun control advocates and experts say weapons like the AR-style gun used in the Uvalde school shooting and other recent mass shootings are often marketed on social media through posts tailored to appeal to young adults and teens. The messaging often seeks to frame gun owners as tough and ready to confront home intruders and other threats.

Since the Uvalde school shooting, Daniel Defense’s marketing has drawn particular scrutiny for targeting teens and young men. Its Instagram account features photos of members of the military holding its weapons, as well as celebrities such as actor Josh Brolin in “Sicario 2” as well as Post Malone wielding its products.

Among the gunmaker’s favorite hashtags are #gunporn and #pewpew, with the latter referring to the sound effect of guns in television shows and cartoons. The company also often posts depictions of young men holding the company’s firearms. Daniel Defense and other gun manufacturers have offered payment plans to help consumers purchase their weapons — which can cost more than $2,000 — in installments.

Such messages were made to appeal to the Uvalde shooter and others like him, the complaint alleges.

“He has been described as a lonely teenager with an unstable home life who displayed violent and self-harm tendencies” and was a fan of “Call of Duty,” the complaint said. “In short, the shooter was both at risk of violence and fit the young, male demographic that — as outlined above — appears to be targeted by the content and placement of Daniel Defense’s marketing.”

The complaint alleges that Daniel Defense is engaged in “unfair and/or deceptive” marketing practices under the FTC Act, which prohibits ads that “promote or model the unsafe or illegal use of potentially dangerous products.”

There have been successful cases in which consumer laws have been used to sue gunmakers. A recent $73 million settlement for Sandy Hook victims’ families came after lawyers pursued a legal strategy claiming the marketing of the gun used in the massacre violated Connecticut’s fair-trade laws.

The Everytown complaint claims, “Absent intervention by the FTC, the continuation of Daniel Defense’s marketing is likely to lead to future tragedy.”

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