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Gun Safety Advocates Renew Call for FTC to Investigate Smith & Wesson’s Marketing Practices, Citing Posts by Social Media Influencers That Don’t Adequately Disclose Company Backing

8.19.2021

Letter to FTC Comes as Smith & Wesson Faces Widespread Scrutiny for its Marketing Practices


WASHINGTON— Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady, two national gun violence prevention organizations, along with Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the 2018 Parkland shooting, have renewed and expanded their call on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Smith & Wesson’s marketing practices. This week’s letter to the FTC highlights a new example of the dangers of Smith & Wesson’s marketing of its M&P line of assault rifles – specifically, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse’s alleged use of a Smith & Wesson M&P assault rifle to kill two people and injure a third people during a protest for racial justice in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The letter additionally highlights a pattern by Smith & Wesson of engaging social media influencers who do not adequately disclose their connections to the company, including the receipt of free firearms, trips, and athletic sponsorships from Smith & Wesson, in violation of FTC guidelines.  

The letter comes as Smith & Wesson’s marketing practices are also facing scrutiny in New Jersey and California. The New Jersey Attorney General’s office is investigating safety representations made by Smith & Wesson in its marketing, and the New Jersey Supreme Court last week declined to stay a subpoena issued to the company as part of that investigation. In California, a court last month allowed survivors of the 2019 Poway shooting, who are represented by Brady, to proceed with a lawsuit that challenges Smith & Wesson’s rifle marketing.The letter follows up on the advocates’ prior complaint to the Commission which cited substantial evidence that Smith & Wesson uses unfair and deceptive practices to market its M&P line of rifles to young, male consumers as associated with the U.S. military. Young, male consumers are a demographic that includes a disproportionate number of the shooters in the 10 most destructive mass shootings—that is, the mass shootings with the highest counts of injuries and deaths—since January 2009.  The evidence indicates that Smith & Wesson exploits the known attraction of this demographic to the excitement, risk, and aggression associated with the military and law enforcement. Since the original letter was sent, an M&P assault rifle was also allegedly used by a 17-year-old to kill two men and injure one other at the Kenosha, Wisconsin racial justice protest after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Arguing that such practices are dangerous and unfair and deceptive under federal law, this week’s letter urged the FTC to investigate.

“Too many families have experienced tragedy like mine because of weapons like Smith & Wesson’s M&P rifles,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime Guttenberg was killed in the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. “Gun manufacturers have a responsibility to prevent these tragedies, but Smith & Wesson’s marketing practices demonstrate that they will not act responsibly. I am asking the FTC to ensure that Smith & Wesson act like a responsible member of our society and follow the same rules and standards as other companies.”

“It need not take yet another horrific shooting for Smith & Wesson to change its dangerous marketing practices,” said Alla Lefkowitz, director of affirmative litigation for Everytown Law. “The FTC can and should act. It is no coincidence that Smith & Wesson’s M&P rifles have been used by teenagers in recent years to perpetrate horrific shootings in Parkland, Poway and Kenosha. This pattern deserves prompt attention and action.” 

“Companies should not be allowed to irresponsibly market weapons of war to the general public, to profit off sales to dangerous people who foreseeably engage in mass assaults on high schools, work places, places of worship, and virtually every place where Americans gather to enjoy life,” said Jonathan Lowy, Brady’s Chief Counsel and Vice President for Legal. “The FTC should step in to prevent the reckless marketing of assault weapons, that will continue to lead to horrific mass shootings in America, unless these companies are stopped. The FTC must act immediately to address this clear and dangerous situation.”

As detailed starting on page 10 of this week’s letter, Everytown and Brady have also found that Smith & Wesson appears to market its firearms through the deceptive use of social media influencers, in violation of the Commission’s Endorsement Guides. Smith & Wesson’s endorsers frequently promote the company’s firearms through a variety of platforms, such as video product reviews, social media posts, and real-world product demonstrations. It appears, however, that the endorsers frequently fail to adequately disclose when they have a material connection to Smith & Wesson, including receiving free firearms, trips, and athletic sponsorships. These marketing practices are likely to mislead reasonable consumers into believing that the endorsements reflect an independent opinion when in reality the endorsers have a material connection to Smith & Wesson.

The complaint and this week’s letter call on the FTC to investigate Smith & Wesson’s marketing practices, including its use of social media influencers, and consider ordering the Massachusetts-based firearms manufacturer to:

  • cease the use of military imagery and associations in its M&P rifle advertisements aimed at civilian purchasers;
  • incorporate into all ads appropriate warnings about the dangers of M&P rifles;
  • cease promotion of M&P rifles on social media disproportionately used by young people and in advertisements that mimic video games; and
  • ensure that influencers who promote Smith & Wesson’s products make full and proper disclosures.