You may have heard of the WEE1 Tactical JR-15 Rifle. It’s a cross between the youth Cricket rifles and a Ruger 10/22, dressed up to look like a kid-sized AR-15, complete with controls. Wee 1 Tactical introduced the JR-15 at SHOT Show 2022, marketing it as a training rifle for younger shooters that looks like their parents’ AR-15s.
The company’s website says that “Since our nation’s founding, families have passed on a love for hunting and shooting sports from one generation to another. Parents and guardians wishing to preserve this tradition have taken the responsibility for introducing children to the safe, responsible use of firearms. The JR-15, a .22LR sporting rifle, is designed to facilitate that, making a young person’s first shooting experience safe and instructive.”
The JR-15 features a collapsible stock, a full-length Picatinny rail up top, M-LOK compatibility, and basic AR-15 ergonomics. The firing system is obviously different, being a straight blowback semi-automatic .22 rifle. As I said, similar to the Ruger 10/22. The JR-15 does not operate like an AR-15. That is probably obvious to most of you but keep it in mind as you continue reading.
The JR-15 also has a proprietary safety that the supervising adult sets, making it difficult for the young shooter to operate it unsupervised. WEE1 Tactical describes it as “tamper resistant” and says the switch “requires strength and dexterity to release.” WEE1 Tactical founder Eric Schmid, however, also compared the safety to a pill bottle. It could deter younger children, but “your 12-year-olds are going to unlock it real easy.” So, as always, safety mechanisms are no substitute for safe practices and diligent supervision and training.
A Manufactured Controversy
The usual suspects in the United States Senate have seized on the JR-15 and their pearl-clutching is truly spectacular to behold. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate WEE1 Tactical’s marketing, which he called a “disgusting and morally bankrupt new low.” Schumer first contacted the FTC last year but has now redoubled his efforts.
“The last thing we need to be doing is reducing in size these deadly weapons of war and then marketing them to children,” Schumer added. “We must stop the raining of bullets across the nation and stop this horrible marketing campaign-not only so it stops, but so that others don’t do it.”
Senator Dick Blumenthal (D-CT) likens gun manufacturers as a whole to tobacco companies in that they increasingly market to children. “The firearms industry has taken a page from Big Tobacco’s book,” said Blumenthal. “In fact, they’ve taken the whole book, marketing to kids-that’s where the money is.” Okay, Dick. Whatever. Kids cannot legally purchase firearms, even if they have the money, and straw purchases are already illegal. This isn’t like your older brother buying you a pack of cancer sticks.
Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) complained that gun manufacturers are “shamelessly pushing these weapons of war on our children. They are propagating a culture of chaos and fear where Americans’ lives are worth less than the profits they can make from a JR-15.” Whatever Alex. See previous paragraph.
Not to be outdone, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said on the Senate floor that “Here’s an ad that came out for an assault rifle this year…it’s like an AR-15 but it’s designed for kids.” Except it’s not an AR-15, Dick. We’ll address all those inaccuracies, and downright propaganda, in a moment.
Tone Deaf Marketing?
First, we have to honestly acknowledge that WEE1 Tactical’s initial marketing campaign may have been a bit tone-deaf. Or maybe more than a bit. The company introduced the rifle with artwork featuring two child-sized skull and crossbones representations. One was female with pigtails, pink bows, a pink pacifier, and a scope reticle for one eye. The other was male with a mohawk, green pacifier, and the reticle eye. The same representation was on the gun’s receiver and box, as many manufacturers do.
Seen from our perspective, it looks pretty cool, and it didn’t bother us when we wrote it up last year during SHOT Show. In hindsight, however, the company probably should have given more thought to the optics the images present to non-gun culturists. Once made aware of the images, the anti-gunners pounced, with California Governor Gavin Newsome calling the branding “vile.”
Yes, we agree that the First Amendment applies here but sometimes discretion is warranted. Anti-gun politicians complained last year and WEE1 has since removed the images from its marketing materials and from the guns themselves. But that’s not good enough. The new marketing campaign, aimed at adults teaching younger shooters proper gun handling and marksmanship, has sparked even more faux outrage.
The media has predictably jumped on the story and turned it into something it’s not. But that was likely what Schumer and company hoped would happen. Yahoo News unashamedly referred to “the JR-15 .22 Long Rifle” alongside “The similarly named AR-15-style rifle [that] has been used in a number of high-profile deadly shootings in the United States in recent years.” The implication is that the JR-15 is nothing but a downsized AR-15. For all we know, the so-called “journalists” really believe that.
Business Insider complained that WEE1 Tactical launched its new ads shortly after a 6-year-old used a handgun to shoot his teacher in a Virginia elementary school. Only Business Insider can tell you why that’s relevant, but the publication is obviously implying that youth rifles, which have literally been around for decades, somehow pose an imminent danger to notoriously soft school buildings. Never mind that a kid could not hide a 16-inch barreled rifle with an overall length of 27.75 inches with the stock fully collapsed. But it’s all about pushing the narrative for the uninformed.
ABC News did something similar. They characterized the JR-15 as a mini-AR-15, an evil semi-automatic rifle, while noting the latter rifle’s use in “recent massacres.” They did say that the JR-15’s .22 caliber cartridge is less powerful than the 5.56 NATO cartridge, but they helpfully point out that the round is “still lethal.” Well, duh, ABC. All firearms are potentially lethal, which is why adults training younger shooters is a good thing.
Other media outlets followed the same pattern. You know how it is. The always-reliable Washington Post wrote that “A child-sized AR-15 should trouble parents.” They cite “experts” in that assessment. The most extreme thing we saw was a blog headline titled “Death Lobby Pushes AR-15 for Children, Called JR-15.” You really can’t make this stuff up. It was full of the inane, uninformed diatribe we’ve come to expect from gun controllers, and a waste of five minutes, but we took one for the team. We left a comment, but the blog’s mediator struck it. It was even polite. But they don’t want to hear from informed commenters. It detracts from the “Death Lobby” hysteria.
Saying the JR-15 is an “assault rifle” for kids is obvious posturing. The people spouting that stuff know it isn’t true, but the people their comments are aimed at may not. It’s all about spreading fear to push the gun control agenda.
Claiming that WEE1 Tactical’s marketing is aimed at children is equally false. As we noted earlier, minors cannot legally purchase firearms. These ads are clearly aimed at adults who might want to teach their children responsible gun handling. Business Insider complained that the new ads include “a photograph of a young child aiming the gun while an adult helps position it.” An adult teaching a child to shoot? Oh, the horror!
But since when have gun control advocates cared about the truth? Or demonstrated any knowledge of how firearms skills are passed down by families of shooters? The United States Senate is nothing but propaganda central on gun issues.
Gun grabber-extraordinaire Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) opined that “This is an open and shut case. This particular company is obviously marketing to kids. That’s the entire intention of the gun.” Except it’s not, as explained earlier.
Not to be outdone, Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Army veteran who should know better, chipped in that “[E]very minute that we let these parasitic companies like this try to trick our babies into buying lethal weapons, we risk witnessing another classroom turning into a massacre.” Sorry Tammy, neither kids nor “babies” can buy guns. Any guns. But you know that already.
The senators blathered on about “weapons of war” being sold to children. It’s the same garbage we’ve heard before, just expanded to include a .22 rifle. This whole thing is a scare campaign engineered by people who know exactly what they’re doing, aimed at people who do not have the requisite knowledge to see it for what it is.
And About that FTC Thing…
Schumer’s complaining to the FTC may or may not be just posturing. The FTC is a regulatory body that does not address marketing. And Schumer knows that. The agency has been careful not to comment on the issue, despite breathless media inquiries. But, given the overreach demonstrated by federal agencies regarding gun issues, especially under the current administration, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the FTC might seek to take action.
But, based on media comments, Schumer’s plan may be to provoke civil lawsuits similar to the successful, and utterly ridiculous, suit by which Remington was bankrupted based on its marketing of the rifle used by the maniac who murdered the kids at Sandy Hook. Schumer is a skilled politician who knows how to get what he wants, so the FTC thing may just be a feint to draw an unscrupulous lawyer’s attention.
The Bottom Line
But, despite the falsehoods pushed by these Senators and the media, WEE1 Tactical has clearly done nothing wrong. Youth rifles have been a thing forever. Yeah, the initial marketing campaign was poorly done, but the company has rectified that. Any honest observer can see that the ads target adults who might be interested in a youth rifle for their offspring.
But the gun control crowd will never pass up a perceived propaganda opportunity. The best the gun community can do is push back with facts and demonstrate why they are wrong. I know it seems futile sometimes. But given the opportunity, the control freaks inevitably stick their necks out too far.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation has already begun pushing back. NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva calmly stated that “It’s a misnomer that this product is being targeted and advertised to children. Children can’t buy it.” Oliva also provided a dose of reality by saying that “Any firearm, period, misused negligently or criminally can certainly be capable of lethal damage. And that’s why it is so important for any youth that is going to be learning the shooting sports to be under the close and direct supervision of an adult.”
It’s funny how people who claim to champion “gun safety” refuse to acknowledge that proper training for young shooters is a good thing. It’s almost as if they really aren’t about gun “safety” at all, isn’t it?