Firearms are a consumer product responsible for 38 500 deaths in the United States in 1994. Like other products, firearms are advertised. In the absence of rules governing the design of firearms, regulating the way guns are advertised may be a useful public health intervention. Some gun advertisements include messages suggesting that bringing a handgun into the home is generally protective for the occupants of the home. The best available scientific information contradicts this message. Given this disjunction, regulating those advertisements may be an appropriate response. Under federal law, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has authority to prohibit advertisements that are 'deceptive' or 'unfair.' Under the FTC's deception analysis, the focus is on whether consumers are misled by an advertisement. For a finding of unfairness, the FTC looks for advertisements that may cause substantial injury to consumers. Under either analysis, a strong argument can be made that firearm advertisements promising home protection are unlawful. On February 14, 1996, several organizations sent separate petitions to the FTC asking it to consider the issues raised by firearm advertisements that premise home protection. The FTC is still reviewing the information presented. There are no First Amendment or Second Amendment impediments to FTC regulation of deceptive firearm advertising under the US Constitution.
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