Smith & Wesson sued over advertising by Highland Park victims

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Gunmaker Smith & Wesson is among those named in new lawsuits filed by the legal arms of Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady (along with several other law firms) on behalf of some of the victims and family members of those killed in the July 4th shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, along with the shooter himself, his father, and the Illinois gun store that sold the Smith & Wesson rifle to the suspect.

The lawsuit accuses Smith & Wesson of using its advertising and marketing to target “troubled” young men like the 21-year old accused of the attack on the Independence Day parade in the Chicago suburb, though the evidence provided by the gun control groups is pretty uncompelling.

[Plaintiff Liz] Turnipseed argues that Smith & Wesson ads mimic the shooter’s-eye view popularized by video games, use misleading imagery of apparent military or law enforcement personnel and emphasize the M&P 15′s combat features — all with a dangerous appeal to “impulsive young men with hero complexes and/or militaristic delusions.”

Advertising text also billed the rifle as “capable of handling as many rounds as you are” and providing “pure adrenaline.” One ad shows the M&P 15 on a dark background above the phrase “kick brass” in a bold red font and capital letters.

“The advertisements and marketing tactics described above demonstrate that Smith & Wesson knowingly marketed, advertised, and promoted the Rifle to civilians for illegal purposes, including to carry out offensive, military style combat missions against their perceived enemies,” her attorneys argue.

So, let’s go through these examples one-by-one, starting with the advertising that supposedly “mimics the shooter’s-eye view popularized by video games.” While first-person shooters are ubiquitous in gaming these days, it has to be noted that its the games that are mimicing the view of someone holding a gun, not the other way around. It’s also worth pointing out that the vast majority of gamers who play first-person shooters, just like the vast majority of gun owners, are never going to commit a violent crime, no matter how many hours they sit in front of a TV screen playing Call of Duty or how many guns they own.

As for the ads featuring phrases like “pure adrenaline,” “kick brass”, or even “capable as handling as many rounds as you are”, how exactly do those promote “illegal purposes” of any kind? As anyone who remembers their first trip to the range can tell you, it is an adrenaline rush to send rounds downrange, but there’s nothing nefarious about it. There’s simply nothing about those phrases that hint at illegal activity. When I see those ads my first thought is a fun day at the range or a competitive shooting event, not mass murder.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the victims of this cowardly assault on a crowd of defenseless paradegoers, and I hope that the suspect in the attack is convicted and rots away in prison. That being said, suing the maker of the gun that the killer used, not to mention suing the store that engaged in a legal sale, seems more like a misguided attempt at financial vengeance that the pursuit of justice, especially with some of the nation’s biggest gun control groups handling the litigation.

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, approved by a bipartisan vote in Congress back in 2005, was supposed to prevent gun makers from being sued over the illegal actions of violent criminals, but the Connecticut State Supreme Court ruled several years ago that the families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting could sue Remington over its marketing practices without running afoul of the PLCAA; a ruling that the Supreme Court declined to reverse. With the gun control lobby doubling down on this litigation strategy the federal courts will almost certainly be asked again to intervene, and the current makeup of the High Court will hopefully be willing to step in this time instead of stepping aside.