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Senators renew call for investigation of smaller AR-15 rifle they claim is targeted toward children

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(WASHINGTON) — Seven U.S. senators are renewing calls for the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation into the marketing of assault-style rifles after the unveiling of the JR-15, a long rifle the manufacturer advertises as a smaller AR-15 geared towards younger users.

Illinois-based WEE 1 Tactical unveiled the JR-15 in early 2022, advertising the weapon as a .22 caliber long rifle with the look and feel of an AR-15. The website for WEE1 Tactical advertises the gun as an ideal weapon to “teach a younger enthusiast.”

After originally writing a letter to the FTC in May 2022, a group of Senators held a press conference Thursday doubling down on their demand for intervention from the FTC.

“The last thing we need to be doing is shrinking deadly weapons of war and marketing them to young children,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the press conference.

An AR-15 is a type of semi-automatic rifle, Variants of the weapon have been linked to several high-profile mass shootings, including the recent massacres in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.

“What we have here is a scaled-down 20% scaled down 22 long rifle that looks and feels and operates just like mom or dad’s gun,” said Eric Schmid, the owner of Schmid Tool & Eng. Corp, the manufacturer of the JR-15, in an interview with organizers of The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show in 2022.

The ammunition and safety features of the JR-15 also differ from the AR-15. While the AR-15 generally uses .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO ammunition, the JR-15 uses .22 caliber ammunition, according to gun experts.

According to Sam Sang, the co-owner of Equilibrium Firearms in Mineola, New York, the .22 ammunition generally has less recoil than .223 or 5.56 and is easier to control while shooting, however, he said it’s still lethal.

WEE 1 Tactical also advertises the gun as having a unique “tamper resistant safety” mechanism, which it claims requires the strength and dexterity of an adult to disengage.

“Parents and guardians wanting to pass on this American tradition have been purchasing small caliber, lighter youth training rifles for decades,” WEE 1 Tactical said in a statement to ABC News. “The JR-15 incorporates a patented safety mechanism that provides an added level of safety available on no other rifle in production.”

A group of 11 Democratic U.S. Senators initially penned a letter in May 2022 to Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, requesting the commission open an investigation into “the marketing of highly lethal firearms, including assault-style rifles, to impressionable young people.”

The letter took aim at WEE 1 Tactical for its “JR-15” marketing materials showing children shooting the gun and its former logo, depicting a skull and crossbones with a pacifier.

Since its initial launch, the branding of the weapon on WEE1 Tactical’s website does not include the original skull and crossbones logo; instead, their website prominently shows an image of a child aiming the rifle with the assistance of an adult.

In their letter, the senators accused WEE1 Tactical of being “just a single actor in a long line of unscrupulous gun manufacturers that have worked for years to market their products to a young audience.” They asked the FTC to take action against WEE1’s “unfair” marketing that could lead to harm or death.

The Federal Trade Commission declined ABC News’ request for comment.

Mark Olivia, the managing director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, disputed that the rifle is being targeted to minors, adding that the rifle would have to be purchased by an adult who undergoes an FBI background check.

“It’s a misnomer that this product is being targeted and advertised to children,” he said. “Children can’t buy it.”

The senators said even if WEE1’s marketing did not contain any false statements, they could still result in harm, referring to the litigation between Remington Company and the parents of victims of the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 that killed 26 people. In that lawsuit, relatives of nine victims alleged that Remington targeted troubled young men in their marketing materials.

Those parents ended up settling with Remington for $73 million after a nearly-decade-long legal battle in Connecticut court.

Less than a year after initially writing their letter, the senators renewed their calls for FTC action this week, reiterating that while the JR-15 is a particularly egregious example, the shift towards marketing to children is an “industry-wide practice.”

“This is an open and shut case. This particular company is obviously marketing to kids. That’s the entire intention of the gun,” Sen. Chis Murphy, D-Conn., whose district includes Sandy Hook, said at the press conference. “But let’s just be clear, makers of AR-15s that are being sold today that we think of as being marketed primarily to adults are also being marketed to kids.”

The senators claim the JR-15 is marketing “weapons of war” to children and might yield another mass shooting. According to the Gun Violence Archive, America has had more mass shootings than days in 2023.

The senators’ renewed calls come days after multiple shootings involving semi-automatic pistols including two deadly mass shootings in California and weeks after a 6-year-old student in Virginia brought a gun to school and allegedly shot a first-grade teacher.

“Because every minute that we let parasitic companies like this try to trick our babies into buying lethal weapons, we risk witnessing another classroom turning into a massacre,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said on Thursday at the press conference.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill added that the marketing bears similarity to the tobacco industry’s marketing to the youth. He said the Senate Judiciary Committee would look into the matter.

WEE 1 Tactical claims on its website that the JR-15 adds “a level of safety found on no other firearm of any size.” The company is currently taking orders for the JR-15 from gun dealers.

It also advertises a connection to Project Child Safe, a National Shooting Sports Foundation program aimed at “promoting genuine firearms safety through the distribution of safety education messages and free firearm safety kits to communities across the U.S.”

Federal law requires that any handgun legally purchased in the United States from a licensed dealer would be sold with a lock. As a trade association, NSSF provides gun locks through law enforcement on behalf of the entire gun industry, according to Olivia.

“Any firearm, period, misused negligently or criminally can certainly be capable of lethal damage,” Olivia said. “And that’s why it is so important for any youth that is going to be learning the shooting sports to be under the close and direct supervision of an adult.”

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