U.S. Sen. Ed Markey on Thursday introduced legislation to outlaw the marketing of firearms to children amid growing outrage from federal lawmakers, gun violence prevention advocates, and parents over a weapon for kids inspired by the AR-15.
The Massachusetts Democrat's Protecting Kids From Gun Marketing Act would direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to create rules to "prohibit any manufacturer, dealer, or importer, or agent thereof, from marketing or advertising a firearm or any firearm-related product to a minor in a manner that is designed, intended, or reasonably appears to be attractive to a minor."
The bill would also empower state attorneys general and private individuals to take legal action for violations of the rules.
"Imagine the public outcry if the alcohol or tobacco industries introduced child-friendly versions of their adult products."
The proposal follows recently renewed criticism of Illinois-based WEE1 Tactical for its JR-15. After coming under fire last year for branding that featured pacifier-sucking baby skulls with gun sights for eye sockets, the gunmaker scrapped the images and now says the firearm represents "a great American tradition," a "small piece of American freedom," and "American family values."
Markey led a May 2022 a letter calling on the FTC to investigate WEE1 Tactical for unfair or deceptive marketing tactics and last week, in the wake of a series of mass shootings, he joined a press conference during which senators repeated that demand.
"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," he said last week. "The deceptive and deadly marketing behind the 'JR-15' is grotesque and reflects the depth of the gun industry's moral depravity."
Markey also took aim at WEE1 Tactical's gun on Thursday, declaring that "a junior version of the AR-15 has no place in a kid's toy box."
"America's gun violence epidemic is claiming tens of thousands of lives each year as gunmakers, dealers, and vendors alike continue to put sales over safety by targeting kids with advertising of a deadly weapon," he said. "It's shameful, irresponsible, and dangerous. The FTC must act immediately to prohibit the marketing of these weapons to children, a step that could save lives."
The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
The bill is also supported by the organizations Brady, Everytown, Giffords, March For Our Lives, and the Violence Policy Center—whose executive director, Josh Sugarmann, said that "few Americans are aware that there is an ongoing, coordinated effort by the gun lobby and firearms industry targeting America's children and teens. Imagine the public outcry if the alcohol or tobacco industries introduced child-friendly versions of their adult products."
Giffords federal affairs director Adzi Vokhiwa stressed that "the gun industry's deceptive and reckless marketing practices have real consequences: Our nation's gun violence epidemic is worsening while the gun industry's profits soar. Promoting weapons to young people is especially heinous considering that guns are now the number one cause of death for children."
"It's time for Congress to take a stand and defend young peoples' lives against an immoral industry practice."
Just over a month into 2023, at least 154 children across the United States have been killed by gun violence and another 364 have been injured so far, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Last year, the totals were 1,675 and 4,479, respectively.
"There's no world in which deadly firearms manufacturers should advertise guns to children," said Zeenat Yahya, policy director, March for Our Lives, which was formed by students after the 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
"Unsecured access to guns has killed far too many children and young people over the years," Yahya continued. "The very idea that gun manufacturers want to take advantage of young people by targeting young people who aren't even old enough to drive with ads that sell deadly weapons is sickening."
"It's time for Congress to take a stand and defend young peoples' lives against an immoral industry practice," she added, "and we're pleased to stand with Sen. Markey and our congressional partners in the introduction of this bill."