New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is asking a state Superior Court judge to force gunmaker Smith & Wesson to hand over internal marketing documents as part of a fishing expedition into the advertising practices of one of the country’s largest firearms manufacturers.
Grewal originally subpoenaed the company’s documents last October, but Smith & Wesson sued in response, and now the AG wants the state court system to compel the release of the internal documents.
Grewal’s office pushed back, saying last week that state law allowed them to dig into anyone advertising within New Jersey.
The review was not about “the product Smith & Wesson sells, but the representations and omissions in its marketing and advertising,” state officials argued in court documents, and the investigation has shown that some ads “may misrepresent the impact owning a firearm has on personal safety.”
Some Smith & Wesson ads also promoted carrying concealed firearms without mentioning that New Jerseyans needed a permit to conceal carry, state officials wrote.
Grewal’s office asked that Smith & Wesson be held in contempt of court for ignoring the subpoena.
Keep in mind that Grewal hasn’t alleged that Smith & Wesson violated any laws or is under investigation for any criminal activity. This is simply an attempt to dig into the documents from the gun maker in the hopes of finding something that his office could then use to file suit against the company over its marketing practices. The fact that Grewal sees a problem in Smith & Wesson “promoting” concealed carry without mentioning that obtaining a carry license in New Jersey is necessary tells me that even if the AG doesn’t find anything nefarious in those internal documents, he’ll try to invent a problem where none exists.
Imagine going after an automaker that advertises how sporty their vehicle might be, without mentioning that there are speed limits, for instance, or a distillery that advertises its products without mentioning all of the laws that govern public intoxication or driving while drunk. That would be seen as an abuse of authority and using the power of the state to harass legitimate businesses, but because Grewal is pursing a firearms manufacturer like Smith & Wesson, we’re supposed to see this as some sort of noble endeavor when it’s really nothing of the sort.
It’s no coincidence that Grewal launched his investigation into Smith & Wesson after a lawsuit against Remington over its own marketing materials was filed. Just a few months after Grewal’s announcement about the Smith & Wesson investigation, the Remington lawsuit was given the green light by the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned away without comment a challenge by Remington to Connecticut Supreme Court decision that the lawsuit did not violate the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The PLCAA was designed to prevent junk lawsuits seeking to hold gun companies responsible for the third-party acts of individuals who’d acquired a gun either legally or illicitly, but in the Remington case the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit filed by several families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook attack, could proceed under the theory that the company’s marketing materials inspired the killer.
One of the plaintiffs in the case is David Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son, Ben, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. Wheeler told NPR earlier this year that to him, the lawsuit is about responsibility. And he recalled one of Remington’s ads for a gun that carried the tagline, “Consider your man card reissued.”
“What kind of society allows manhood to be defined in this way?” Wheeler asked.
The AR-15 is a close relative of the Colt company’s M16 automatic rifle used by the U.S. military. Since Colt’s patents for the original AR-15 expired in the 1970s, other manufacturers have been making guns based on similar designs.
In filings with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Sandy Hook families say Remington “published promotional materials that promised ‘military-proven performance’ for a ‘mission-adaptable’ shooter in need of the ‘ultimate combat weapons system.’ ” They also accuse the company of fostering a “lone gunman” narrative as it promoted the Bushmaster, citing an ad that proclaimed, “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.”
Parents who lost their children on that horrible day have said it was no accident that Lanza picked the AR-15-style rifle to carry out his shooting rampage.
Of course the individual responsible for the murders at Sandy Hook didn’t legally acquire his murder weapon. He killed his own mother and then stole the rifle that she had legally purchased. So far the plaintiff’s haven’t demonstrated that the Sandy Hook murderer was even aware of Remington’s marketing materials, much less inspired by them, but that’s unimportant to New Jersey’s Attorney General, who merely sees an opening provided by the Remington case to pursue his own open-ended investigation into Smith & Wesson’s marketing practices.
While Remington’s lawsuit was rejected by the Supreme Court, Smith & Wesson’s legal challenge to Grewal’s fishing expedition could give the Court another chance to weigh in on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who wasn’t on the Court for the Remington decision, could very well tilt the court towards recognizing that the law was designed to prevent this type of litigation.
Unfortunately we’re still several steps away from that possibility playing out. At the moment, the real action is in New Jersey’s Superior Court, where a judge will soon decide whether or not Smith & Wesson has to comply with the AG’s fishing expedition into its marketing materials.