The Federal Trade Commission, the principal national advertising regulator, claims gun and weaponry advertising is within its purview, as are ads for most other products and services.
But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms says the genre is not policed.
"We have jurisdiction over advertising for firearms to prevent deception and unfairness," said Lee Peeler, the FTC's associate director for advertising practices.
Tom Hill, information officer at BATF, however, said gun ads are generally unregulated.
"No one oversees firearms ads because they are not considered consumer products," Mr. Hill said. "Basically, they can say what they want."
Mr. Hill said the FTC may have nominal jurisdiction but the date of the commission's last action against a gun advertiser-in the 1970s, Mr. Peeler said-reflects the real-world state of regulation.
"They have something on the books but haven't done anything with it," Mr. Hill said. "I think there's just a lack of interest in the area."
Josh Sugarman, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, concurred.
"Gun dealer ads are notorious for playing up the suitability of their weapons for criminal use ... of marketing to the criminal element," he said. "The entire industry is virtually unregulated. Their ads used to be of the variety that said, `We make good guns. Buy one,' but in the last few years they've come to rely on fear mongering and appealing to population segments, like women, through fear."