Civil Lawsuits and Public Service Announcements Weaken the Gun Lobby

Despite appearances to the contrary, American gun makers and sellers are not untouchable, unreachable, or above and beyond the law.

David Burn
4 min readJun 4, 2022

Typically, when legislators fail to act to protect people, the makers of dangerous products and perpetrators of dangerous industry practices are held in check by the threat of civil litigation. But this principle does not apply to the gun industry, because it has obtained unprecedented immunity from this important system of accountability.

Lawsuits against gun manufacturers are prohibited by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. When the bill became law in 2005, the NRA said it was “ the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in twenty years.”

The federal law allows for six exceptions in which lawsuits may be brought against gun manufacturers. One of them is for manufacturers who violate state or federal laws governing the marketing or sales of guns.

The marketing exception helped parents of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre successfully sue Remington Arms last year. The families of nine Sandy Hook school shooting victims were awarded $73 million as a result of the lawsuit.

According to CalMatters, the survivors of the 2019 shooting at a San Diego area synagogue also successfully argued that Smith & Wesson used marketing “that attracted impulsive young men with military complexes who were particularly likely to be attracted to the unique ability of AR-15 style weapons.”

To entertain the claims more thoroughly, let’s view some of Smith & Wesson’s marketing materials.

Does the video above do a good job of “moving metal,” to borrow a phrase from the automobile industry? And who is this video appealing to? Future SWAT team members?

There are dozens more videos on the brand’s YouTube page. I cherry-picked one that neatly illustrates how the marketing of high-powered automatic weapons is not about hunting, it’s about acting out real-life war games. Where people die.

Like Guns Themselves, Gun Advertising Is Mostly Unregulated

How do we bring a rogue industry to a better place? Can we force them to the table and make them play nice?

In 1997, a complex agreement negotiated by a group of state attorneys general, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and industry representatives, required big tobacco to pay $368.5 billion over 25 years to compensate states for the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, to finance nationwide anti-smoking programs and to underwrite health care for millions of uninsured children.

There’s no such agreement to keep firearms out of the hands of children — in ads or in real life. This partly explains why a new ad from the Georgia-based maker of the AR-15 used in the Uvalde massacre features a toddler cradling an AR-15 like it’s the best gift ever.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” Daniel Defense wrote in the ad shared on Twitter on May 16, eight days before the slaughter at Robb Elementary School.

The line refers to a proverb in the Bible.

The West Is Won, Turn In Your Gun

Since the advertising industry will not self-regulate and the gun industry will not stop pumping their chambers until ‘We, the People’ stop them, what else can be done?

We can make and place public service ads for gun control. Do you remember these iconic campaign lines?

Seat Belts Save Lives.

Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.

Keep America Beautiful.

What’s the “Gun Control Now” line that opens minds and changes hearts? “Gun Control Now” is too demanding and abrupt. We need persuasive copy and campaigns from the industry’s best makers to work on this challenge.

Too many Americans believe they have a God-given right to a gun. Too few Americans have ever read the Constitution or the Bible. The Second Amendment clearly says, “members of a well-organized militia” can have a gun. Teens with a death wish are not part of any militia, well-organized or not. Soccer dads and moms who are armed to the teeth and deathly afraid of immigrants fleeing gang violence and poverty are not part of any militia. A select few Americans have any rights to a gun whatsoever.

Now, how do we convey the truth of this to the people of this nation? How do we move people to care more about saving lives than destroying them? Lawsuits and ad campaigns alone won’t do it, but these are effective tools we have in the toolbox and it’s high time we make full use of them.

David Burn writes poems, stories, news, ads, and opinion. He lives in the Lost Pines of Central Texas with his wife, Darby, and dog, Lucy Spotted Tongue.