(WASHINGTON) — Leading gun manufacturing executives testified Wednesday before a House panel investigating the role of the firearms industry in the nation’s high rates of gun violence, maintaining under sharp questioning from Democrats that American citizens — not firearms — cause mass shootings.
The hearing, helmed by House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, featured two CEOs and other gun industry members ahead of the consideration of legislation that would restrict the sale of semiautomatic weapons, which are often used in large-scale killings.
Many gun rights supporters and Republicans oppose such a move as unconstitutional.
Over the span of nearly six hours, House Democrats probed the manufacturers on their marketing tactics to children and adults, with lawmakers asking if they would implement additional safety features on their firearms and seeking, the lawmakers said, to better understand the features of the military-style weapons.
“I hope the American people are paying attention today. It is clear that gun-makers are not going to change unless Congress forces them to finally put people over profits,” Maloney said.
Gun companies have seen revenues of more than $1 billion over the last 10 years, according to a new report from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee on the five major gun manufacturers’ sales and marketing of AR-15-style rifles.
The two CEOs who spoke Wednesday, Marty Daniel of Daniel Defense and Christopher Killoy of Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc., both pushed back when asked if they felt they had responsibility for recent mass shootings, such as those in Uvalde, Texas; Highland Park, Illinois; and Buffalo, New York, among others, given that the weapons their companies make are often used in such massacres.
“I believe that these murders are a local problem that have to be solved locally,” Daniel said. “These acts are committed by murderers. The murderers are responsible.”
“I don’t consider what my company produces to be ‘weapons of war,'” Killoy said.
Some of the Uvalde and Buffalo victims’ relatives sat in the chamber during the hearing. The parents of 10-year-old Alexandria Rubio, one of the students slain in Uvalde, propped up their daughter’s photo in the room.
Republicans on the committee defended the manufacturers, agreeing that “criminals” are responsible mass shootings rather than guns or weapons manufacturers.
Some lawmakers, like South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, called the hearings “political theater.”
Rep. Jody Hice, a Georgia Republican, and Tennessee Republican James Comer, the committee’s ranking member, said the hearing was a part of a “disturbing trend in this committee of going after both private citizens and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
“I want to know when are you, Chairwoman Maloney, going to apologize to the American citizens for not dealing with the real issues and showing responsibility and accountability?” Hice asked — trying to redirect the focus to what he said was a more important issue.
“When are we gonna have hearings in this committee, holding people responsible in cities, municipalities, states and right here in our own Congress, for being soft on crime? When are we going to have hearings to do away with the ridiculous, outrageous policies of defunding the police?” he said.
Daniel, of Daniel Defense, said that he was at the hearing voluntarily but was “concerned” that the implied purpose of the hearing was to vilify and blame rifles for recent deadly shootings.
Two months ago, the Uvalde gunman used a Daniel Defense weapon to kill 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school.
“Many Americans, myself included, have witnessed an erosion of personal responsibility in our country and in our culture. Mass shootings are all but unheard of just a few decades ago,” Daniel said. “So what changed? Not the firearms … 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.”
During his testimony, Daniel said he wanted to reduce violent crime. He said that the hearing focused on a weapon, the AK-15, that is responsible for less than 4% of homicides.
Killoy began his testimony by discussing his corporation’s safety practices, then defended the right to gun possession despite the push by some in Congress for further restrictions and reforms.
“We firmly believe it’s wrong to deprive citizens of their constitutional right because of the criminal acts of wicked people. The firearm, any firearm, can be used for good or evil,” Killoy said. “The differences in the intent of the individual possessing it, which we respectfully submit can be the focus of any investigation into the root causes of criminal violence involving firearms.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., asked Killoy if he would track crimes committed with his company’s firearms as part of a new human rights assessment.
“Congressman, respectfully, that’s not our job. We’re not law enforcement. We don’t have the resources or capability to track injuries or fatalities.” Killoy said.
Ryan Busse, a senior adviser at the Giffords Law Center and a former gun-industry professional, testified that he had seen the industry evolve over time, becoming more emboldened in their marketing and sales of weapons.
“Sadly for me, there is no place in the industry for anyone who believes in moderation or responsible regulation,” he said.
When questioned on how exactly an AR-15 differs from other guns, Busse said AR-15s were “designed to be an offensive weapon of war for troops in battle, to charge into places like buildings and battlefields to take as many lives as possible as fast as they possibly can.”
Maloney spoke with ABC News on Tuesday about the context of the hearing. She said it should be a “wakeup call” for Congress to act on gun reform “to hold these gun manufacturers accountable for the deadly weapons that they’re manufacturing that are killing innocent Americans.”
“Most industries have a responsibility for their products. We have liability on our cars. Every time there’s a car wreck, we study it. We should do the same thing with guns. We should have liability on guns. They’re far more dangerous than cars,” Maloney told “GMA3.”
Maloney told ABC News that a representative for a third gun manufacturer, President Mark P. Smith of Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc., was invited to the hearing, but did not attend. Smith’s company made the weapons used by the shooters in Highland Park and in Parkland, Florida, among others.
“I would say, ‘We have invited three manufacturers — CEOs — [and] two have accepted,'” Maloney said.
“One is dodging us and not responding to our requests for documents,” she contended. “And we intend to hold them accountable eventually in some form.”
Maloney opened the hearing Wednesday by announcing her intent to issue a subpoena for documents from Smith & Wesson “so that we can finally get answers about why this company is selling assault weapons to mass murderers, answers we were hoping to get at today’s hearing.”
The company did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
The oversight committee previously sent letters to Smith & Wesson, Daniel Defense and Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc., among others, on May 26, following the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde.
The letters sought further information on the companies’ sale and marketing of AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles and similar firearms, “including revenue and profit information, internal data on deaths or injuries caused by firearms they manufacture, and marketing and promotional materials.”
On July 7, following the Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, Maloney sent additional letters to the CEOs of the three top gun manufacturers, requesting their appearance at Wednesday’s hearing.
Maloney’s request for the hearing with gun executives came ahead of the committee’s June 8 hearing with Uvalde and Buffalo survivors and victims’ relatives.
President Joe Biden a month ago signed into law a bipartisan gun safety package, which did not include the weapons ban he sought. House Democrats are pushing for more reforms.
Maloney told ABC News that she believed the additional legislation “will make America safer for our citizens.”
At the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., pressed the gun manufacturers on several advertisements tied to their weapons with what appear to be acknowledgment of white supremacist groups. She asked both Daniel Defense and Sturm, Ruger & Company if they would condemn the practice of marketing to far-right extremist groups.
Both CEOs said they were unaware of her specific instances, but “we do not tolerate racism or white supremacy,” Killoy said.
Busse, the former industry professional, said he would push back on the idea that gun laws don’t work — citing Uvalde and Buffalo, both cases in which the shooters waited until they were 18 years old to lawfully purchase their guns.
In the wake of those killings, Democrats renewed calls to raise the minimum age to buy assault-style weapons.
“The fact is that the laws impact the way people purchase and use guns and we need to as a responsible society and you as a governing body need to take that into account,” Busse said.
In closing remarks, Comer, the ranking Republican, thanked the manufacturers for continuing to do business in the U.S. and he called for better security at our schools, mental health support and police funding.
Maloney, in her remarks, apologized to the families of gun violence victims.
ABC News’ Lalee Ibssa and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.
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