There are a number of federal laws on the books that shield gun manufacturers from liability for gun crimes and deaths. In order to bypass these laws, New Jersey officials are taking a new approach to investigate the gun industry. Specifically, they’re targeting Smith & Wesson, one of the largest gun manufacturers in the world, over its advertising practices.
The state’s consumer affairs division has taken aim at the company’s marketing efforts, which it asserts may be fraudulent. One example, officials say, is a recent advertisement that shows a woman carrying a gun in her purse everywhere she goes, including the gym and the office. The state claims that nearly everything portrayed in this ad is illegal in most states without a concealed carry permit. It’s ads like this that the state claims could constitute advertising fraud on Smith & Wesson’s part.
Many believe that the true aim of the investigation is to unearth internal documents from Smith & Wesson in order to expose the industry’s workings. In the past, gun manufacturers have been able to successfully resist legal challenges for such materials. However, the outcome could be different in this case since allegations of fraud are involved.
In a lawsuit filed by Smith & Wesson to prevent New Jersey from enforcing its subpoena for documents, company officials claim that the investigation aims to suppress and punish lawful speech regarding gun ownership in furtherance of an anti-gun agenda. In addition, the company claims that its advertising practices are protected by the Second Amendment and federal law.
However, an exception exists that excludes an action in which a seller or manufacturer of a product knowingly violates a state or federal law applicable to the sale or marketing of the product when the violation was the cause of particular harm. Thus, according to New Jersey officials, Smith & Wesson’s advertising practices are fair game for an investigation.
Experts believe that this case could expose the type of evidence that turned the tide against tobacco companies several decades ago, particularly given the special protection enjoyed by the gun industry over the years.
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