For the most part, gun owners know which federal agencies they need to keep an eye on. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) needs to be watched for its role in concocting new firearms regulations and its heavy-handed industry enforcement operations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) must be monitored for its often-unsatisfactory administration of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Further, astute gun-rights supporters, including readers of this journal, know about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) incessant desire to use tax dollars to create anti-gun propaganda.
However, gun owners need to be aware that our opponents take a whole-of-government approach to civilian disarmament. Gun-control supporters have demonstrated a willingness to use any portion of the federal government, no matter how seemingly ill-suited to the task, to undermine Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Most recently, gun-control advocates have sought to marshal the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to their oppressive cause.
In early January, the CPSC incited an uproar when Bloomberg news reported that the agency was contemplating a ban on gas stoves due to purported “concern about harmful indoor air pollutants emitted by the appliances.” The public backlash was so fierce that two days after the Bloomberg report, CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric was forced to issue a statement denying the agency intended to ban popular kitchen appliances.
The episode left some scratching their heads. Why would the government seek to ban a useful product that millions of Americans have used safely for generations? However, shrewd observers were quick to point out just how well a prohibition on gas stoves would align with the Biden administration’s climate-change agenda.
Whether the CPSC was advancing climate politics under the guise of consumer safety is not for NRA to say. However, it wouldn’t be the first time the CPSC has been employed in pursuit of a broader political agenda.
When the CPSC was founded in 1972, gun-rights advocates and lawmakers anticipated how the new agency could be exploited to enact gun control. With this in mind, Congress explicitly excluded firearms from the definition of “consumer products” under the agency’s jurisdiction.
Sadly, this didn’t stop the gun-control lobby from using the CPSC to attack gun owners at the earliest opportunity.
Shortly after its founding, the CPSC was given the authority to administer the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA). In 1974, the anti-gun group Committee for Handgun Control petitioned the CPSC to consider a ban on handgun bullets as a hazardous substance under the FHSA.
In 1976, at the urging of the new NRA Institute for Legislative Action, Congress passed legislation reiterating their intent to deny CPSC the authority to enact gun control. The new language made clear that CPSC “shall make no ruling or order that restricts the manufacture or sale of firearms, firearms ammunition, or components of firearms ammunition, including black powder or gunpowder for firearms.”
This comprehensive prohibition didn’t mark the end of the CPSC’s gun-control efforts.
In the early 1990s, longtime gun-control advocate Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) prodded the General Accounting Office to produce a report on how the CPSC could be used to enact gun control. The report recommended that the CPSC be given authority to regulate firearms and for a requirement that firearms be equipped with mandatory “safety” features.
In 2001, CPSC Chair Ann Brown pushed the agency to file a suit to force the mandatory recall of between 7.5 and 9 million Daisy air guns. At the time, NRA-ILA pointed out that the Clinton-era CPSC chair’s attack on air guns appeared to be less about any supposed “defect” and more about the inherent nature of the product. An NRA-ILA alert noted that Brown’s anti-air gun “defect” claim “is so broad that it could not only affect virtually every air rifle, but it could also be used in future reckless lawsuits against firearm manufacturers.”
A wiser CPSC voted to drop the Daisy recall in 2003. In a written statement addressing the matter, CPSC Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall explained, “[I]n my over 30 years of government service, I have never seen a more outrageous miscarriage of justice and abuse of the processes of public policy than this case.”
As if to make clear her motives in the Daisy case, since leaving the CPSC, Brown has repeatedly argued that the agency should be used to advance gun control.
In a 2016 piece for The Washington Post, titled “We regulate lead paint—so why not lead bullets?” Brown argued that the CPSC should have the authority to regulate bullets, due to their lead content. Dropping any pretense that the goal of such a policy would be to protect ammunition consumers from a purportedly hazardous substance, Brown went on to make clear that the lead issue was merely an excuse to enact gun control.
On Jan. 12 of this year, just three days after the gas-stove ban made headlines, Brown was back in the Post arguing for CPSC-led gun control. Titled “Guns are consumer products. They should be regulated as such,” the piece also called for a ban on commonly owned semi-automatic firearms.
And, it’s not just the CPSC.
According to their mission statement, the Federal Trade Commission is tasked with “Protecting the public from deceptive or unfair business practices and from unfair methods of competition.” This includes enforcing the FTC Act, which the agency points out “prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising in any medium.” The FTC’s vague and subjective mandate has spurred gun-control advocates to attempt to conscript the agency to censor their political opponents.
Last September, a partisan group of anti-gun senators wrote a letter to urge the FTC to “undertake an investigation and consider regulation of the unfair and deceptive advertising practices used by the firearms industry.” The senators accused gun companies of “specifically target[ing] and tailor[ing] its advertisements to children and teenagers.” The supposedly “false and misleading” advertising claims the senators demanded the FTC take action against included military and law enforcement themes meant to appeal to young men and “marketing firearms to consumers as a safe and proven product to protect themselves and their homes.”
In January, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for the FTC to “investigate” a company for marketing a firearm designed around the needs of minors who are learning to responsibly handle guns. Specifically, the anti-gun senator’s grandstanding was directed at a semi-automatic .22-caliber rifle designed around the same manual of arms as the AR-15, dubbed the JR-15. Operationally and ballistically, the JR-15 is not much different from the sorts of rifles—i.e., the Ruger 10/22—that have introduced generations of young people to the safe and responsible use of firearms, including through programs like Boy Scouts, 4-H and scholastic rifle teams. The JR-15 even features a secondary tamper-resistant safety, which when engaged helps prevent the use of the firearm without an adult’s assistance.
As with the gun controllers’ CPSC campaign, this isn’t a new effort.
In 1996, a group of anti-gun organizations led by the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (an adjunct of Handgun Control Inc., and later the Brady Campaign) petitioned the FTC to prohibit handgun manufacturers from advertising their products for home protection. The crux of their argument relied heavily on Arthur Kellerman’s dubious research claims about the purported dangers of keeping a gun in the home. In true whole-of-government fashion, the petition was supported by prominent anti-gun public-health researchers, including CDC-funded gun-control advocate Stephen Teret.
The social utility of firearms was resolved in 1791 with the ratification of the Second Amendment.
In early 2002, an outfit called Gun Industry Watch urged the FTC to scrutinize firearm manufacturers and retailers’ patriotic advertising. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, some in the firearms industry sought to emphasize their products’ suitability for protecting both the home and the homeland. According to the anti-gun group, advertising suggesting that armed citizens can have a role in protecting themselves and their families, communities and country was “misleading and dangerous.”
Whether gun control advocates are prepared to admit it, the social utility of firearms was resolved in 1791 with the ratification of the Second Amendment. This was reiterated in the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in District of Columbia v. Heller, McDonald v. Chicago, and NYSRPA v. Bruen, which make clear that the Second Amendment protects firearm use inside and outside the home for self-defense. When understood in combination with the First Amendment’s protection for commercial speech, this entire censorship effort is precluded by the Bill of Rights.
Moreover, these petitions are bogus on the merits. An analysis by Florida State Criminologist Gary Kleck using the anti-gun CDC’s own data found that Americans likely use firearms for self-defense more than 1 million times per year.
As for the issue of supposed marketing to minors, federal law prohibits gun dealers from selling firearms directly to those under 18. Even so, current law does not prohibit marketing firearms to minors. This is evidenced by the fact that one of the anti-gun senators who has called for the FTC to investigate the marketing of the JR-15 introduced legislation that would require the agency to promulgate rules to prohibit members of the gun industry “from marketing or advertising a firearm or any firearm-related product to a minor in a manner that is designed, intended, or reasonably appears to be attractive to a minor.”
Gun-control advocates have made clear they are not above weaponizing any federal agency to attack gun rights and gun owners. And keeping up with how the ever-expanding alphabet soup of federal agencies might be exploited for gun control is too much for any one person. That’s why it is so important for gun owners to organize within their own communities and around a strong NRA-ILA in order to monitor and push back against federal overreach. Working together as millions of informed gun owners willing to make our voices heard to our elected representatives while they’re in office and at the ballot box is the most effective way to halt the whole-of-government civilian-disarmament campaign.