The gunman in the Texas school shooting this week flaunted his recent purchases of AR-15 style weapons on social media. One of those has been identified as a high-end rifle fitted with an expensive optic sight produced in Georgia.
The $1,870 Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 rifle is legally sold to anyone over 18 who passes a background check at a gun shop, which the shooter did shortly after his birthday, according to law enforcement.
But the gun company with ties to military production is facing a raft of unwanted public attention and could soon face years of costly litigation.
The alleged shooter in the Uvalde elementary school posted his receipt from Daniel Defense last week, according to images obtained by The Daily Dot. He also recently purchased 375 rounds of the 5.56 ammunition for the rifles and carried seven 30-round magazines into Monday’s shooting along with the Daniel Defense rifle, according to law enforcement officials.
After founding Daniel Defense in 2001, CEO Marty Daniel got his big break in 2002 when he caught the attention of a U.S. Special Forces and received a $20 million contract for specialized hand rails for M4 rifles used in combat.
Since then, Daniel Defense has grown into one of the largest privately held gun manufacturers in the U.S. with sales nearing $100 million, according to Forbes. The company had at least $3 million in government contracts in recent years, according to federal records. It held contracts with the United Kingdom’s military as well as many domestic law enforcement agencies.
The CEO told Forbes in 2017 in an interview that sales spiked after the Sandy Hook massacre where 26 were killed including 20 students. So far in Uvalde, 19 students and two teachers have died.
“The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 drove a lot of sales,” Daniel told Forbes. “That was a horrible event and we don’t use those kinds of terrible things to drive sales but when people see politicians start talking about gun control, they have this fear and they go out and buy guns.”
On Wednesday, in the wake of the shooting, the company was flooded with social media criticism and restricted some of its accounts. Critics seized on a now-deleted May 16 Twitter post featuring a young boy holding a Daniel Defense rifle.
Daniel, who is still due to host a booth at the annual NRA convention in Houston this weekend, did not respond to USA TODAY for comment.
Ryan Busse, a former gun executive at Kimber who wrote a book about what he calls a “radicalized gun industry,” said Daniel Defense will soon have decisions to make about whether the company will speak out about the shooting, or continue advocating for AR-15 sales.
“As every mass shooting happens, within a company, anyone with a heart hopes it’s not their gun, then when it is, the only way to get around it is to rationalize it,” Busse said Wednesday. “You have to say: It’s nothing we did, we did everything we could legally and this just happens because there are bad people out there. You have to tell yourself that because it’s all you can say.”
Scrutiny of gun maker could echo Remington suit
Daniel Defense could face lawsuits stemming from this week’s elementary school shooting, but the manufacturer is largely shielded from civil liability due to the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
However, families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting successfully sued Remington, the producer of the Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle used in the shooting 9 years ago.
In February, the gunmaker agreed to a $73 million settlement in the case, which hinged on marketing materials targeted at young men as proof of masculinity and fears of having your “man card” revoked.
Daniel Defense’s marketing and the focus on “tactical” and combat gear, could again be scrutinized.
“Courts have generally rejected claims that just selling AR-style weapons is so dangerous that it should open a company up to liability,” said Jake Charles, director of Duke University’s Center for Firearms Law.
Still, Charles expects a series of civil suits from the Uvalde shooting, including against Daniel Defense.
Those suits could follow the route of the Sandy Hook suit against Remington, said Josh Koskoff, a Connecticut attorney who helped secure the settlement. He called the military marketing material “red meat” for young consumers.
“It doesn’t seem like Daniel Defense shies away from promoting the military capabilities of the AR-15 and surely they’re targeting young men who love first person shooter games,” Koskoff said. “These companies need to think about this reckless marketing and the increasing velocity of mass shootings in America.”
The 2005 PLCAA law grants wide immunity to manufacturers, dealers, and sellers of firearms or ammunition – as well as trade associations – from civil liability in the wake of “the criminal or unlawful misuse” of a firearm. The law grants some exemptions for suits, such as knowingly transferring a firearm to a felon.
President Joe Biden has called on Congress to repeal the law federally. New York state passed a law last year that makes it easier to bring civil suits against manufacturers under a “public nuisance” standard.
Representatives from the key gun manufacturing lobby have fought attempts to end the law’s protections. Larry Keane, a senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, compared it to protections against frivolous lawsuits against medical device manufacturers or websites such as Facebook.
“The law simply says that these agenda-driven lawsuits can’t be brought against a manufacturer that had nothing to do with the criminal or wrongful misuse of their product,” Keane wrote in an op-ed last year.
The seller of the Uvalde shooter’s ammunition could also face civil litigation.
Lucky Gunner, a Tennessee-based online retailer has faced two lawsuits tied to mass shootings. The most recent suit stemmed from the 2018 shooting at a Texas high school by a 17-year-old.
In February, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the case could go forward despite the company’s attempt to have it dismissed.
The company had successfully fended off a suit in 2015 tied to the Aurora movie theater shooting where the perpetrator purchased more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition before fatally shooting 12 people.
Jordan Mollenhour, founder and owner of Lucky Gunner, was just appointed to the state’s Board of Education by Gov. Bill Lee, prompting outcry from critics.
Nick Penzenstadler is a reporter on the USA TODAY investigations team. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @npenzenstadler, or on Signal at (720) 507-5273.