Two days following a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), chairwoman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a set of questions to the five leading manufacturers of AR-style semi-automatic rifles, including Bryan County-based Daniel Defense – maker of the DDM4 V7 AR15-style rifle used by the shooter to kill 19 fourth-graders and two teachers.
The questions revolved around the sale and marketing of AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles. The deadline for answering those questions was Thursday. Despite repeated calls and emails to the Committee, however, the Savannah Morning News has been unable to confirm whether Daniel Defense met its deadline.
SMN reporters asked many of the same questions last week of Steve Reed, the vice-president of marketing for Daniel Defense. Reed responded simply with an email: “As this is an ongoing investigation we ask that you direct your questions to the proper federal authorities.”
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We asked no questions related to the investigation, however. Rather, SMN is more interested in how Daniel Defense and Marty Daniel, the founder and owner, conducts its business.
A rifle or pistol that fires once for each trigger pull and reloads automatically for the next shot. AR-15-style guns are semi-automatic.
Gun enthusiasts and the gun industry maintain, however, that semi-automatic weapons are not “assault rifles,” which they contend are military firearms capable of firing without pause until their magazines empty. However, the federal Public Safety and Recreation Firearms Act, the “assault weapons ban” in effect between 1994-2004, banned the manufacture, sales, transfer and possession of semiautomatic weapons, including the AR-15 and similar firearms.
A gun magazine is the piece that holds shells for feeding into a firearm’s chamber. A high-capacity magazine is typically defined as any magazine or drum that is capable of holding more than either 10 or 15 rounds of ammunition, allowing shooters to fire more rounds without reloading. Standard high-capacity magazines hold 30 rounds; some magazines can hold up to 100.
According to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, between 2009 and 2020, high-capacity magazines led to five times as many people being shot per mass shooting.
Only 10 states of 50 prohibit high-capacity magazine sales.
The Congressional Research Service defines mass shootings as “occurring in relatively public places, involving four or more deaths — not including the shooter(s) — and gunmen who select victims somewhat indiscriminately. The violence in these cases is not a means to an end — the gunmen do not pursue criminal profit or kill in the name of terrorist ideologies, for example.”
About 1% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. occur in mass shootings like the ones in Buffalo and Uvalde. Since 2009, 274 mass shootings have resulted in the death of 1,536 people and 983 people wounded; 25% of those killed are children 18 years and under. More than 75% of mass shootings are carried out with handguns, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
However, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the number of AR-style weapons manufactured in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2004, when the U.S. Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to sunset. That ban, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, banned the manufacturer and consumer sales of the AR-15 and other semiautomatic rifles.
Semi-automatic, military-style weapons, such as the ones made by Daniel Defense, have been used by the assailants in 14 of those shootings. These shootings include the most recent school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde and the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, where the shooter, armed with 23 weapons fired more than 1,000 bullets from his hotel window, killing 60 people and injuring more than 400 with gunshot wounds. At least one of the shooter’s weapons was made by Daniel Defense and equipped with a bump stock and a 100-round high-capacity magazine.
By SMN’s own calculations, these incidents of mass shootings with AR-15-style weapons represent 5.1% of mass shootings, but account for 17.9% of the deaths.
The business of making guns
Since its founding in 2001, Daniel Defense has grown into one of the leading manufacturers of semi-automatic guns and accessories. The company employees roughly 200 people, has posted 25 well-paying openings with benefits on its website, and operates out of a 380,000-square-foot manufacturing facility off I-16 in Black Creek, just less than 30 miles west of Savannah, that opened in 2009.
The company expanded operations in 2017, when, according to a profile in Forbes magazine, it posted $73 million in gross sales with a gross profit margin of 35%. Although government contracts to the tune of more than $30 million — including a recent $9.1 million sole source contract with the Naval Surface Warfare Center — make up a substantial portion of its revenues, 90% of Daniel Defense’s sales are direct-to-consumer.
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Like most local businesses, the pandemic slowed production and profits. But, within days of the federal relief Paycheck Protection Program’s opening in April 2020, Daniel Defense received a loan of $3.1 million, which was quickly forgiven, even though it manufactured more than 51,000 firearms that year — a nearly 20,000 unit increase over its 2019 numbers.
It’s not about the money, founder Marty Daniel explained in that 2017 Forbes profile. He said then he was “more interested in preserving our gun rights than making a dollar.”
That statement is borne out by both his company’s and his personal political contributions.
The politics of making guns
Federal government contractors as businesses are prohibited by law from making contributions or expending corporate funds in connection with federal elections, but they can contribute to political action committees (PACs) that influence federal elections. That same prohibition does not extend to individuals in a company, however.
Marty Daniel and his wife Cindy Daniel, COO of Daniel Defense, contributed upwards of $300,000 toward former President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign between 2016-2020.
Daniel Defense, the company, contributed $100,000 to the Gun Owners Action Fund, a PAC founded out of an accounting firm in Tampa, Florida, following the 2020 Presidential election that backed then-Georgia senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. The company made that contribution on Jan. 6, 2021, the day after both incumbent senators were unseated by Democrats John Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.
During the 2020-2021 election cycle, the Gun Owners Action Fund provided more than $72,000 to Republican candidates and spent nearly $60,000 campaigning against Democratic candidates.
According to Andrew Mayersohn of OpenSecrets, a national government transparency research organization, the treasurer of GOAF, Nancy Watkins, is also the treasurer for several other conservative PACs, such as Ending Spending Action Fund, which made big contributions to GOAF last cycle.
“[GOAF] also used Mentzer Media Services as a vendor, which is also used by Mitch McConnell and the Senate Leadership Fund,” wrote Mayersohn in an email. “So it seems like they are in the same campaign finance ecosystem as the major mainstream conservative groups.”
An ABC News article reported recently that the PAC is refunding the $100,000 contribution “at the request of the donor.”
Ethics and other election disclosure forms show that during the 2022 Georgia primary that Daniel Defense contributed more than $22,000 to Gov. Brian Kemp’s re-election campaign; $10,000 to the Georgia House of Representatives Trust; $7,000 to secretary of state candidate Jody Hice; and, $7,000 to Chris Carr in his re-election bid for state attorney general. Hice lost during the primary election held May 24.
Guns by the Numbers
population of U.S.
U.S. Census Bureau, 2022
U.S. adults who say they own a gun
Gallup Survey, Oct. 2020
393 million guns
owned by U.S. civilians
8.75 million guns
manufactured annually since 2010
3 million semi-automatic handguns
manufactured in 2019
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 2019
AR15-style semi-automatic weapons in circulation
National Shooting Sports Foundation
Amy Paige Condon is a content coach with Savannah Morning News. You can reach her at [email protected]