Marty Daniel, the CEO of a Georgia gun manufacturer, testified in front of Congress of Wednesday, as part of an ongoing investigation by lawmakers into what is fueling the country’s high rates of gun violence.

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

Daniel asserted that the gun industry is not responsible for the country’s mass shooting epidemic.

Over the course of more than five hours, members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee grilled Marty Daniel, of Daniel Defense, and Christopher Killroy, president and CEO of Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. on their business practices.

Democrats examining the gun industry urged that manufacturers be held accountable for their marketing and sales tactics that, they said, in many instances encourage violence.

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said gun CEOs “are choosing their bottom line over the lives of their fellow Americans.”

“It’s no secret why gun CEOs are so desperate to avoid taking responsibility for the deaths caused by their products,” she said. “Our investigation found that these companies made over $1 billion selling assault weapons in the last decade.”

Republicans slammed their colleagues on the other side of the aisle and accused them of politicizing mass shootings as part of a campaign to strip away Second Amendment rights.

In his opening statement, Daniel, CEO of the Black Creek-based gun manufacturer, said he was willing to work with lawmakers to combat crime but that he was concerned that the hearing was being used to “vilify” and “ban” military-style rifles.

“Many Americans, myself included, have witnessed an erosion of personal responsibility in our country and in our culture,” Daniel said. “Mass shootings are all but unheard of just a few decades ago. So what changed? Not the firearms. They are substantially the same as those manufactured over 100 years ago. I believe our nation’s response needs to focus not on the type of gun but on the type of persons who are likely to commit mass shootings.”

Daniel Defense manufactured the military-style rifle that the Robb Elementary School shooter used to kill 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, this year. 

Maloney pressed Daniel on if he felt any personal responsibility for the children killed in Uvalde.

These acts are committed by murderers,” Daniel responded. “The murderers are responsible.”

Four of the company’s rifles were also found among the other weapons used by the 2017 shooter in Las Vegas, who killed 60 people and injured hundreds at a concert.

Lawmakers on both the state and federal level are grappling with how to respond to a startling spike in gun violence that has created a seemingly endless news cycle of mass shootings. 

Testimony from gun CEOs comes ahead of a promised vote by House Democrats on legislation that would ban the sale or possession of high-capacity magazines and military-style weapons.

So far in 2022, there have been more than 370 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The high rates of gun violence runs in tandem with record-breaking gun sales which experts link to the COVID-19 pandemic and mass civil unrest.

In May, the committee requested Daniel Defense and two other gun makers outline company information on the manufacturing, marketing and sale of military-style rifles — citing concern that the companies are “profiting off of mass shootings.”

Ahead of the hearing on Wednesday, the committee released its findings.

Daniel Defense saw profit from military-style rifles triple in three years from $40 million in 2019 to $120 million in 2021, according to the report. Since 2012, the company grossed $528 million in profit from these types of firearms.

Democrats raised concern that the companies were marketing firearms with military tropes and images of war to boost sales among civilians — and in some instances, they said, includes advertisement that plays into the beliefs of white supremacists and extremist groups.

Gun control advocates testified that young people are especially susceptible to messages from advertisers — especially messages to young men about proving their masculinity.

It all goes around to the deliberate marketing to some of the most vulnerable and impulsive members of our society,” said Kelly Sampson with United Against Gun Violence.

Former gun industry executive Ryan Busse, now with the Giffords Law Center, said that there is “no place in the industry for anyone who believes in moderation and responsible regulation.”

I was inside the industry as new companies like Daniel Defense built businesses by advertising AR-15s for slogans, encouraging young men to ‘use what the Special Forces guys use,’” Busse said. 

The committee’s report included Daniel Defense advertisements that use law enforcement and military images to market their products, although a majority of its sales are to direct to consumers. Daniel Defense does supply firearms to local law enforcement offices and federal agencies.

But Republicans argued that it is unfair to hold manufacturers accountable for mass shootings and other crimes committed by shooters using their products.

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, who owns a gun store in Athens, Ga., said he’s “never known a gun to be violent.”

“I’ve known people to be violent, but never an inanimate object like a firearm,” he said. “…We should be holding the criminals accountable. Firearms are simply tools and can be used for good or evil by the person behind the tool.”

This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Riley Bunch/GPB News

Riley Bunch is a public policy reporter at Georgia Public Broadcasting covering the intersection of government and daily life. Bunch has won awards for both her journalism and photography during her time...