With shootings like the ones that occurred in San Bernardino, Oregon and Paris still on the collective mind of the world, the gun industry is working harder than ever to distance itself from the fallout and the liability that comes with it – at least, that’s what two reporters from The Guardian would have you believe.
Mae Ryan and Rupert Neate were ejected from the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday after they raised issue with their press passes being seized during SHOT Show, the largest gun industry trade show in the world.
The journalists believe they were asked to leave because of their reporting on gun control and the firearms used during a deadly shooting spree in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, when 14 people were killed and 21 wounded by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, during a holiday party at a government services center where the former of the two was an employee. The couple immediately fled the scene and were later killed in a shootout with police.
After being led on a tour of the Smith & Wesson booth, The Guardian journalists inquired about the gun company’s M&P15 on display, asking if it was the same rifle used by Farook and Malik. Authorities have confirmed one of the four firearms used during the rampage was manufactured by Smith & Wesson. The rifle was unsuccessfully modified to fire in automatic mode, something amateur gunsmiths have been able to accomplish.
The two were then reported to the show’s host, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, who then called security, the journalists told Guns.com during a video call Friday.
Admittedly, Ryan and Neate violated the trade show’s rules on major news organizations’ participation when they failed to wait for a NSSF representative to escort them on the expo floor before visiting the Smith & Wesson booth.
In an email to the reporters, the NSSF requested they have an escort at SHOT Show before they arrived. Ryan and Neate registered, went to the press room and because it wasn’t immediately obvious where to get an escort, “we went out onto the floor to do our interviews without one,” Ryan said in an earlier email to Guns.com.
When they got back to the press room, the two were asked to surrender their press passes and leave the grounds. Being journalists, Ryan and Neate protested the attempt at suppressing their reportage and that’s when security was called.
The NSSF told Guns.com during the show on Friday that it has declined press credentials to a number of national media – including The New York Times and The Washington Post – which often follow angles that may make their guests uncomfortable. The organization said the primary purpose of hosting the show is to allow manufacturers, distributors and retailers to conduct business transactions freely.
Mainstream publications that follow a business angle are permitted, but usually on the condition that they are accompanied by an escort. The NSSF pointed to its media guidelines posted online. Otherwise, press credentials are reserved for outdoor and industry-specific media. The gun industry trade group said the Associated Press is allowed because of its “straightforward approach to reporting.” Also, local media is permitted since the angle is often about an event in the area.
According to the SHOT Show website, the issuance of media credentials is at the discretion of the NSSF communications team and the criteria include previous SHOT coverage or receiving an invitation to do so; a demonstrated record of reporting on “shooting, hunting, law enforcement and related activities;” and a record of “reasonable objectivity, fairness and balance in past coverage of the industry.”
A Smith & Wesson representative was not immediately available for comment about the incident.
It’s not surprising that Smith & Wesson would be defensive when a product it manufactured was illegally used to take innocent lives. And a simple product liability defense wasn’t enough for the industry as a whole either, which is why it pushed to have the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act passed in 2005.
The law protects gun and ammunition manufacturers, dealers and those in the supply chain from damages caused by the misuse of their products.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley have vowed to repeal the law, which has been challenged in court several times following a series of shootings since it was enacted.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, also vying for the 2016 presidency, has consistently defended the law, saying manufacturers should not be held accountable for the actions of criminals.
“If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and that murderer kills somebody with the gun do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible? Not anymore than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beat somebody over the head with a hammer,” Sanders said in July. “That is not what a lawsuit should be about.”