The gun used to kill 49 people and injure 53 others at the Orlando gay night club Pulse last weekend was not an AR-15. The rifle that shooter Omar Mateen used was a Sig Sauer MCX, which has been described as a spinoff of the AR-15.
While the internal mechanics of the two weapons are different, that doesn’t mean much when it comes to the MCX’s capacity to kill many people quickly. But you’d never know that it was the weapon of choice for Mateen from looking at Sig Sauer’s Facebook page, which has almost 700,000 followers. The gun manufacturer, one of the five largest in the United States, has not been silent since Saturday night’s shooting, but it has not mentioned Orlando once.
Sig Sauer isn’t alone. None of the other major gun manufacturers have mentioned the tragedy on their Facebook or Twitter pages. Their social media accounts haven’t gone silent; they’ve just focused on the continued promotion of guns and their brands.
On Sunday morning, a few hours after Mateen opened fire, Sig Sauer re-posted on Facebook a meticulously framed photo of a pistol taken by a fan. The comments are uniformly about the beauty of the gun. On Tuesday, its Facebook page congratulated the U.S. Army on its birthday in the morning and posted a photo of a long-range rifle in the evening.
Gun companies are publicly silent about Orlando, leaving the National Rifle Association of America to respond on their behalf. And it has. The NRA, after all, is well-paid by both its members and the gun industry to defend the Second Amendment right to bear arms. It’s been tweeting about little else since Sunday, mainly criticizing calls for gun control and suggesting that the best response to mass shootings is to arm more people so that they can be prevented.
The NRA’s tweets reflect a certain reality. The stock prices of publicly-traded gun companies have surged in the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting. Mass shootings are generally good for business, leading to people buying more guns.
There’s a certain nihilistic honesty to the brazen gun-toting of the NRA and gun companies on social media, an honesty not shared by the scores of legislators who offer only thoughts and prayers in response to Orlando and no legislative action to curb gun use, all while accepting campaign funding from the NRA.
The strategy the gun companies take is probably the better one from a public relations standpoint. Ed Zitron, the head of the media-relations firm EZPR, said by phone that the smart approach—though, he emphasized, not the ethical one—was to avoid saying anything about the shooting.
“I think if they had to admit that a gun was used to shoot someone to death in a bad way they’d feel responsible” he told me. He said that they were probably also avoiding an aggressive approach around condemning political responses to the tragedy so as not to offend anyone in government.
“If they were to go out and say the government is wrong here or the government is right here, very lucrative contracts could be in danger or renewals could get challenged,” said Zitron. “Removing ethics here, smart or stupid, they’re doing the best thing for them by shutting up and saying, ‘Support our troops.'”
He also had sharp words for the NRA, who’ve taken a hard tack, expressing almost no remorse and blaming “radical Islam.” He described NRA’s Twitter stream since Sunday as bordering on vile and almost comical. It sounds, he said, like “the kind of gun-toting maniac who wants to walk around Target with his AR out.”
Zitron suggested they acknowledge what had happened as a horror and encourage gun safety. “No one’s not going to buy a gun because the NRA goes on a campaign that says to use trigger locks,” he said.
Surprisingly, there are only a few negative comments on Sig Sauer’s Facebook page, whether because of heavy moderation or because of an absence of outrage (there are more on an ad for the MCX posted to YouTube that features a man shooting multiple bullets at a human-shaped target). There were just two negative posts to Sig Sauer’s Facebook wall on Tuesday afternoon, with one woman asking if they felt guilt and a man saying that letting people buy assault rifles was the equivalent of letting people walk around with grenades.
Sig Sauer did not respond to the comments but its fans did, saying grenades would be awesome and another asking whether Ford should feel guilty if a drunk driver in a F-150 crashes into a Prius.
That the manufacturer of the semi-automatic weapon behind America’s largest ever mass shooting has a web presence this serene in the days after is eerie. I sent a message to the Sig Sauer page, which Facebook helpfully told me usually replies within an hour, asking why the company hasn’t posted anything about the attack. Whomever is in charge of the page has seen it, but has yet to respond.
In an essay about gun control last year, Gawker editor Alex Pareene argued that the push for gun control requires not just money but people willing to take the fight to the gun industry, to force them to confront the horror for which they refuse to take responsibility. He concluded:
Almost every single clinic in the United States that performs abortions has reported experiencing at least one incident of harassment. There are 130,000 gun stores in the United States. It’s time for gun control activists to get familiar with them.
The Sig Sauer Facebook page is not a gun store, but it is one of the most public-facing online homes of a corporation that refuses to confront its culpability. Odds are it will continue to remain silent about what its product has wrought. But you don’t have to. The Sig Sauer Facebook page is here, if you’d like to say something.