Families of Uvalde victims sue Activision, say Call of Duty is 'the most prolific and effective marketer of assault weapons in the United States'

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(Image credit: Activision)

On the second anniversary of the 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, families of the victims have filed two lawsuits which accuse Instagram, gun maker Daniel Defense, and Activision of "grooming" the 18-year-old mass shooter, reports The New York Times.

On May 24, 2022, the shooter killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, and injured 17 others. The ineffective police response has been the primary subject of criticism so far, and the families recently reached a $2 million settlement with the city of Uvalde.

These new lawsuits, one filed in California and the other in Texas, turn attention to the marketing and sale of the rifle used by the shooter. The California suit claims that 2021's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare featured the weapon, a Daniel Defense M4 V7, on a splash screen, and that playing the game led the teenager to research and then later purchase the gun hours after his 18th birthday. 

According to The Times, the complaint says that Call of Duty's simulation of recognizable guns makes Activision "the most prolific and effective marketer of assault weapons in the United States."

An Activision representative told the paper that the company expresses its "deepest sympathies" to the families, but disagrees with the conclusion that Call of Duty motivated the shooter, saying that "millions of people around the world enjoy videogames without turning to horrific acts."

The Entertainment Software Association, whose membership includes Activision Blizzard owner Microsoft, has called the accusation "baseless."

"We are saddened and outraged by senseless acts of violence," reads an ESA statement provided to PC Gamer. "At the same time, we discourage baseless accusations linking these tragedies to video gameplay, which detract from efforts to focus on the root issues in question and safeguard against future tragedies. Many other countries have similar rates of video gameplay to the United States, yet do not see similar rates of gun violence."

In 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported that Activision once made a "secret deal" with Remington to feature the gun maker's Adaptive Combat Rifle in 2009's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the same gun used in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Remington was sued by the families of those victims for irresponsible marketing, and though it fought the suit, it ultimately settled for $73 million in 2022. Activision was not targeted by that lawsuit.

Efforts to find the makers of violent videogames legally responsible for the actions of mass shooters have thus far not been successful, and in 2011 the US Supreme Court ruled that videogames are protected by the First Amendment. The notion that a game maker might be held liable for irresponsibly marketing a weapon, however, seems to be a new angle.

Aside from Activision, the families have accused Meta's Instagram and Daniel Defense of recklessly marketing the weapon.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.