Gun manufacturers, including American firearms and ammunition giant Remington, are targeting children in their advertising, according to a report shared exclusively with Campaign US by gun violence prevention organization Sandy Hook Promise. 

According to the report, which contains unsealed documents from the Sandy Hook families’ 2015 lawsuit against Remington filed after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, creative briefs at the company referred to “youth and millennials” as part of a new target audience among which the company sought to boost gun sales as its core customer base began to age. At the time, the youngest millennials were between 10 and 14 years old. 

As part of its marketing strategy, Remington and Freedom Group, another name for Remington Outdoor Company (ROC) pursued deals to place replicas of their guns in shooter video games as part of a marketing push to reach these younger audiences, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Part of that push included a 2009 deal with video game publisher Activision Blizzard that involved placing a new weapon called the Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR), a modular rifle that contained design elements from the AR-15, in its 2009 release Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Other internal documents from firearms companies referenced in the report referred to marketing guns to youth before they turn 16 as a “window of opportunity.” 

According to the report, creative strategies among weapons manufacturers are not limited to encouraging family hunting trips or sports shooting competitions. Instead, they have increasingly advertised military-style, semi-automatic firearms using R-rated psychological messaging about sex, power and masculinity. 

The report comes as Sandy Hook Promise calls on the advertising industry to get involved to help prevent gun violence, especially among children, as it is now the No. 1 cause of death for youth under 19. It also comes as CEO Nicole Hockley calls for stronger regulation – for manufacturers, agencies and tech platforms – as it relates to marketing weapons. 

“If you look at things like tobacco and alcohol, they are not allowed to market to minors,” she said. “If you showed [some of these ads] to a parent, they would not want that shown to their children. It’s basically R-rated content being served to young people with no disclosure that it’s an advertisement or that the influencers are being paid to do it. It’s very dangerous messaging, and it’s all about selling.”

Gun manufacturers are currently protected under The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a law passed in 2005 to shield firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for crimes committed using their products. 

Manufacturers may be held liable for negligent entrustment if it is found that they had reason to believe a firearm was intended for use in a crime.

This loophole, however, has made it difficult for mass shooting victims’ families to try cases against manufacturers whose weapons were used in the act. In an interview with Campaign US, Hockley revealed most lawyers refused to take her case after her son was killed at Sandy Hook due to the PLCAA law. 

“We want to change the marketing regulations and we want to first ask manufacturers to self-regulate, for which we’ve provided guidelines in the report. And if they don’t self-regulate, then we want to enact legislative action to ensure that there’s compliance,” she said.

Additionally, while social media platforms ban the direct sales of firearms, they still allow influencers paid by the firearms industry to promote guns. 

“You can go on to Instagram right now and influencers and advertisers are out there [advertising firearms] with nothing saying ‘I’m being paid to do this’ or getting a product in kind, but they’re still selling it off the basis of sex and power,” Hockley said.  

For instance, several ads depicted in the report show how guns are marketed on TikTok by equating gun ownership to female sexuality. One ad contained images of a woman in sexually provocative clothing holding several semi-automatic weapons, also known as a “gun bunny,” with the caption, “Girls don’t want flowers for Valentine’s Day, we want guns.”

(Photo credit: @gunwaifu / TikTok)

Other ads on Instagram and Facebook depict children holding weapons, including one Facebook post by manufacturer Daniel Defense with the caption: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The post was made the same day the Robb Elementary School shooter in Uvalde, TX used a Daniel Defense rifle to kill 19 children and injure 17 other people. 

(Photo credit: Daniel Defense / X)

“There is a direct correlation you can make between dangerous marketing practices and how they have gotten even worse and the rise of gun violence amongst young people,” Hockley said. “[These are] impressionable young people that are still developing their mental capacity and maturity, so [manufacturers] are making very dangerous decisions.” 

Based on the report, it is still far too easy for children to gain access to dangerous and violent firearm content. 

As part of the report, Sandy Hook Promise ran an experiment in which it created a TikTok account posing as a 13-year-old boy. On the first day of launching the account, the “boy” lingered over and liked a post from SteveO, the writer and creator of Jackass

In the following several days, the account was served several pieces of military-style content related to loading and firing assault-style weapons, how to create a 3D printed “ghost” gun and tactical, military-style drills. 

“We also want to hold social media companies to account in terms of the way algorithms work there,” Hockley said.

In the meantime, Sandy Hook Promise continues to call on the ad industry and on parents to fight for change through a campaign titled UnTargeting Kids. 

The campaign asks advertisers, manufacturers and parents to push for more research on the correlation between marketing and increased gun violence, demand that the firearm industry take action and self-regulate and ask Congress to speak up and act against these harmful marketing practices. 

“We’d love for marketing firms, advertisers, influencers and social media companies to stand up and ensure that they are regulating what’s appropriate and what’s not by lending their voice to this issue, demanding change and positive support because some of the stuff is truly very egregious,” Hockley said.

This article originally appeared on Campaign US.