American gun manufacturers were accused of “putting profits over people” on Wednesday, following a US House of Representatives investigation that found the firms made more than $1 billion in sales from AR-15-style weapons over the past decade.
The investigation by the US House Oversight Committee comes as a series of high-profile mass shootings have horrified the nation: 10 people were killed in a racist attack at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children were murdered at a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, in May.
Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the US House Oversight Committee, said during a hearing with gun industry executives that AR-15-style rifles are “altered deadly [weapons] engineered to kill enemy soldiers on the battlefield”.
“Yet the gun industry has flooded our neighbourhoods, our schools and even our churches and synagogues with these deadly weapons,” she said.
“In short, the gun industry is profiting off the blood of innocent Americans.”
The committee's investigation found that three gun manufacturers — Daniel's Defence, Ruger's and Smith and Wesson's — either doubled or tripled their revenue in recent years, even as the number of mass shootings increased in the US.
The committee also claimed that gun makers use “dangerous marketing tactics” to sell assault weapons and have not taken steps to analyse deaths or injuries caused by their products.
While industry executives expressed sympathy over mass shootings, they argued that such atrocities are committed by criminals and not firearms.
“I believe our nation's response needs to focus not on the type of gun but on the type of person who are likely to commit mass shootings,” Marty Daniel, chief executive of Daniel's Defence, told the committee.
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Christopher Killoy, chief executive of Ruger's, echoed Mr Daniel's sentiments.
“A firearm, any firearm, can be used for good or evil. The difference is in the intent of the individual possessing it,” he told the panel.
Mark Smith, chief executive of Smith & Wesson, refused to attend the hearing. Ms Maloney said she would seek to subpoena documents from the company's executives.
The committee's investigation is part of an effort by Democratic members of Congress and President Joe Biden to push for stricter gun laws, including a potential vote later this week on banning assault-style weapons.
Such legislation is likely to fail in the Senate, where views on gun rights and the Second Amendment are sharply divided along party lines.
The Democrat-led bill would be the party's most significant action on guns in decades and would certainly be more aggressive than the modest bipartisan package signed into law earlier this year.
Democrats renewed efforts to enact stricter measures after a shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois, left seven people dead.
Two thirds of Americans believe that gun laws in the US should be stricter, a recent Gallup Poll showed. Fifty-five per cent of respondents supported a ban on assault-style weapons and 92 per cent were in favour of background checks.
More than 370 mass shootings have been reported in the US this year, the Gun Violence Archive reported. Sixteen of those incidents have been mass murders.