A group of nuns who own stock in Smith & Wesson have filed a lawsuit against the company for manufacturing, marketing, and selling AR-15s that expose the company to liability. The plaintiffs allege that Smith & Wesson is “intent on marketing and selling its AR-15 Rifles in whichever manner results in the most sales — even if its marketing is illegal, attracts a dangerous category of consumers, facilitates an unrelenting and growing stream of mass killings, and causes the Company to face an ever-increasing and substantial likelihood of liability that threatens its long-term existence.”
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The civil lawsuit, which names Smith & Wesson as well as its executives and board members as defendants, points out that the company’s AR-15-style M&P15 rifles were used in the Aurora, Highland Park, Poway, Parkland, and San Bernardino shootings and alleges that “Smith & Wesson’s targeted marketing practices…ensured that its AR-15 Rifles would be purchased and used by emotionally troubled young men through advertisements designed to take advantage of young men’s impulsive behavior and lack of self-control, by: (i) falsely glorifying the implied endorsement by the military and law enforcement; and (ii) cunningly presenting the use of AR-15 Rifles as a real-life version of the adrenaline-filled experiences they have had in first-person shooter games.” Examples of the company’s advertisements and social media posts can be found here.
According to the lawsuit, Smith & Wesson’s executives and board members allegedly chose to “flagrantly ignore the safe marketing practices it committed to” back in 2000, when the company negotiated a settlement with the Clinton administration and agreed to not “market any firearm in a way that would make the firearm particularly appealing to juveniles or criminals.”
Smith & Wesson’s marketing of AR-15s has played a central role in multiple lawsuits against the company — including one filed in the wake of the Highland Park shooting — FTC complaints, and a House Oversight Committee investigation.
The lawsuit also alleges that Smith & Wesson has violated federal law by producing AR-15s that can easily be converted into fully automatic machine guns as well as state and local laws by selling the rifles into jurisdictions that forbid them.
According to the nuns, the previous lawsuits and violations of federal, state, and local laws expose the company to “substantial liability” that may lead to “great financial harm, up to and including bankruptcy.”
This lawsuit isn’t the first time the nuns have attempted to rein in the Smith & Wesson’s harmful practices. In 2018, shareholders approved a proposal — against the board’s recommendations — submitted by the nuns requiring that the company issue a report on how it tracked and disclosed information related to its products’ use in crimes in an effort to protect the company’s reputation. In the resulting report, Smith & Wesson stated, “The Company’s reputation as a strong defender of the Second Amendment is not worth risking for a vague goal of improving the Company’s reputation among non-customers or special interest groups with an anti-Second Amendment agenda.”
Or, as the nuns’ lawsuit notes, “rather than explaining the Board’s oversight and/or monitoring of risks related to the Company’s manufacturing, marketing, and sales of AR-15 Rifles,” the report “establishes that the Board knowingly decided to prioritize short-term profits and sales over the long-term legal risks resulting from the same.”
In 2021, nun shareholders proposed that Smith & Wesson adopt a human rights policy “to make the business, the products and the consumers who buy them safer,” but when the proposal did not receive enough votes, the company called the attempt “disingenuous, politically motivated, and…not in the best interests of our company.”
More recently, in August 2023, the nuns attempted once more to get Smith & Wesson to conduct a third-party “human rights impact assessment” but failed to receive enough votes. Smith & Wesson’s board opposed the proposal, stating that it “would require us to reduce our lawful product offerings,” such as AR-15s. The board also claimed that the nuns “want to ban entire classes of commonly-owned firearms or abolish firearms altogether.”