Why Do Americans Keep Buying Guns?


              I bought my first gun when I was 12 years old. It was a Smith & Wesson K-frame revolver which I got at a tag sale off of Highway 441 in Florida for fifty bucks. This was in 1956 and since then I have probably bought and traded for at least another 300 guns. Right now, I own around 60 guns, maybe a few more, maybe a few less.

              I like guns. I’ve always liked guns. And if you were to ask me why I like guns, my answer would be that I just like guns. I have liked guns ever since I sat in the movie theater near my home and watched Alan Ladd outdraw Jack Palance in the movie ‘Shane.’ Sometimes as I walked to school I would even stop and pretend that I was yanking out my revolver and winning a quick-draw contest against a bad guy right then and there.

              I never actually needed any of those guns, then or now. I need a car, or I can’t get to work. I need clothes or I can’t leave my house. I need food or at some point I won’t feel very good. And I need my pills or my blood pressure and my A1C will get out of control – let’s hear it for Big Pharma!

              The point is that I really need to buy certain consumer products every day. But the category of consumer products that I require in order to lead a normal life doesn’t include guns. And I’m not at all unusual in that respect.

              The truth is that if we have 300 million or more personally-owned guns sitting in the basements, attics, garages, glove compartments and coat pockets of law-abiding American adults, not a single one of these weapons is needed for any tangible purpose at all.

              Gun-nut Nation loves to talk about how guns represent a unique American tradition – the 2nd Amendment and all that. Know what American tradition guns really represent? The American tradition and practice of consumer product marketing, which we do better than anyone else.

              Want to know what made our Industrial Revolution a real revolution? It was the fact that over the second half of the nineteenth century, we began manufacturing cheap, mass-produced consumer products that went into every American home. When was the first Sears catalog published? 1888.  When was the first advertising agency founded?  It was a company in Philadelphia named N. W. Ayer which started operating around the same time.

              And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the marketing of guns for ‘self-defense’ is an advertising strategy that’s just become commonplace over the last several decades.  The picture above is an ad for Iver Johnson handguns, a company that started operating in Fitchburg, MA in 1871. Where the factory was located in Fitchburg is now a Dairy Queen.

              I don’t know whether the gun industry was listening to consumers when they started promoting the idea of self-defense guns or whether it was the other way around. What I do know is that for all the talk about how the recent gun-buying splurge is a reaction to the insecurities engendered by the Pandemic or the fears of unrest following the mass demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd, the fact is that even though there appears to be an increase in the number of first-time gun consumers, most of the guns purchased over the last several years ended up in the hands of consumers who already owned guns.

              The NSSF says that 5 million consumers bought guns for the first time in 2020, which if this calculation is correct, means the total number of gun-owning consumers in the United States increased by roughly ten percent. Now there’s no consumer product industry that wouldn’t like to see a ten percent increase in the size of its market, but let’s not assume that every law-abiding American is rushing out to buy a first-time gun.

              Using FBI-NICS checks as the proxy for determining gun sales, the total sales volume for 2020 appears to have been 65% higher than 2019. In other words, the same consumers who like to spend their money on guns keep spending their money on guns.

              Why does a certain group of consumers keep buying the same product again and again? Since I’m one of those consumers, my reason is what I stated above – I happen to like guns.

What’s The Gun Business Facing After Sandy Hook?


Ever since the gun business started feeling some heat from the government over how many people are killed and injured every year with guns, which first occurred in 1968 and again in 1994 with the passage of two gun-control laws, the industry’s response always begins with a reminder that the 2nd Amendment ‘protects’ the legal ‘rights’ of people who want to be armed.

That’s all fine and well except for the fact that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t give any Constitutional protection for the manufacture of guns, only for keeping a handgun in the home. And what last week’s settlement of the lawsuit against Remington represents is a first-time, successful attempt, to shift the issue of regulation and gun control to where it really belongs, which is by placing the focus directly on the people who make the guns. 

Actually, it’s a little more nuanced than that because you can make all the guns you want to make in the privacy of your own home. The problem is if you take one of your home-made guns and try to sell it to someone else. Then you’re no longer just a gun owner, you’re also a gun maker, and that’s a different story entirely when it comes to all those so-called 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

In my state – Massachusetts – I can only sell one of my guns that I bought in a gun shop to someone else if I make the purchaser of my gun go through a state background check online. But if I want to sell more than 4 of my personally-owned guns in a year, I first must become a state (and federal)-licensed gun dealer because the law says that I am now engaged in the ‘business’ of selling guns.

And there has never been one, single challenge to my state’s ability to set an arbitrary number of guns whose sale makes me not just a gun owner but a gun dealer. Nor has such a law been challenged in any other state where this type of law exists.

For that matter, at the federal level the ATF has never actually defined what the term ‘engaged in the business’ means when it comes to making or selling guns. And if I happen to live in a state which does not require a background check when I sell one of my guns to someone else, then all I need to do is get a manufacturer’s license from the feds, a process which only requires that I pass a NICS-FBI background check, and I’m good to go.

So, here we have an industry which is in the process of making and selling a consumer product that can be used to kill 26 human beings in less than 3 minutes (which is what happened at Sandy Hook) and the industry, as opposed to the owners of their products, has basically escaped government regulation – until now.

Actually, what I just said is not entirely true.  In 1994 the Clinton Administration passed a law which set design standards for the manufacture of assault rifles, but the law expired after 10 years and now only exists in a handful of states. Then in 1999 the Clinton Administration attempted again to regulate how manufacturers sell their guns by making a deal with Smith & Wesson which they hoped would then become an industry-wide standard except that Bush beat Gore in the 2000 Presidential election, and that was the end of that.

The gun industry has dealt with the dangerousness of their products by turning the entire argument on its rhetorical head and claiming that using a lethal product to defend yourself is a good reason for owning a gun. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the argument going forward should just be confined to regulating the AR-15. The kid who killed and injured 49 at Virginia Tech in 2007 used a Glock 19.

This morning I looked at the websites for the NRA, the NSSF and the NASGW, the three organizations that speak for the gun industry and promote the idea that using a gun for personal protection is a good thing. Regarding the Remington settlement, as my friend Ramon Carande used to say, ni palabra ni pío (read: not a peep.)

If the gun business wants to stay in business, they better start figuring out how to market their products in a way that will let them avoid being held responsible for the kind of mass carnage which occurred at Sandy Hook.

But if gun makers came up with a non-lethal product, would they still be making a gun?

Just What Your Kid Needs – An AR-15.


              It figures. Now that Remington has agreed to shell out $73 million because its AR-15 assault rifle was used to kill 26 adults and kids at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, a gun-maker announced that it will be marketing an assault rifle designed specifically to be used by younger kids.

              What makes this new gun a kiddy product? According to the gun maker, it will be the first assault rifle which will have a ‘safety’ feature that allows adults to ‘control’ how and when the gun is used. This feature is a knob on the side of the gun which has to be rotated by an adult in order to unlock the trigger and fire the gun. 

              Why does this safety knob keep kids from shooting the gun without intervention by an adult?  Because allegedly the spring which holds the safety knob in place is too strong to be manipulated by anyone who doesn’t have adult-size hands.

              Otherwise, the gun, which is 80% the size and weight of a standard AS-15, is exactly like the gun that was used in the massacre at Sandy Hook, except that it is chambered only for 22LR ammunition, not for the more lethal .223 ammo which the adult gun fires.

              On the other hand, the manufacturer is going to ship the gun with a hi-cap magazine that holds 15 rounds. Thank God for that.

              Yesterday I was able to get to the gun maker’s website, today the website is blocked. I suspect there have been numerous efforts to hack the site and why not?  This new product may represent the single dumbest and most cynical product launch in the entire history of the gun industry, bar none.

              First of all, the gun is allegedly designed to be used by consumers who aren’t old enough to actually buy or own a gun.  The website had a picture of some pre-adolescent girl shooting what the company says is a product that ‘looks, feels and operates just like Mom and Dad’s gun.” Legally speaking, Mom or Dad would also have to be the owner of this ultra-safe gun.

              Of course, I can just see Josh Hawley introducing a bill in Congress that will drop the legal age for gun ownership down to twelve, or maybe get rid of any age requirement at all, as long as the gun has a safety device that can only be operated by an adult. For sure, the bill will easily get co-sponsorship in the House from Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene.  And maybe the company will run ads on the new social media platform – Truth – owned by Donald Trump.

               Ever since the 1970’s, when the term ‘outdoor sports’ started to mean floating down some stream in a kayak rather than tramping through the woods to take a pot-shot at Bambi, the gun business has been trying to figure out how to get consumers interested in their products who aren’t older, White men. 

              They’ve gone after women, they’ve gone after minorities, they’ve gone after the gun ‘rights’ crowd and they have failed every, single time. The only time that some newbies got interested in becoming gun owners was during the Covid-9 pandemic, an event which happens (hopefully) about once every hundred years.

              Want to know what happened to gun sales in January, which is usually the biggest month for gun sales all year?  They dropped by 50 percent from the number of guns sold in January 2020, right back to the total for January 2019. Oh well, oh well, oh well.

              There’s an old joke in the gun business which says that if you want to make a million dollars in guns, start with two million bucks. If the guy whose company is making this gun doesn’t have two million, maybe he can hire Rudy Giuliani to hit up one of his Ukrainian friends.

              I can see it now. Next week all the faithful will be gathering in Orlando for the CPAC conference to pledge undying to the conservative cause. The usual bromides will be coming out of the mouths of Trump, DeSantis, Cruz and all the other wannabees for 2024.

              After the spiels, the audience can go wandering around the area where displays are set up and buy a Trump-2024 banner, or a Ted Cruz for President hat, or a Mike Pompeo coffee mug. Then they can sign a petition at the WEE1 Tactical booth to lower the minimum age for gun ownership to – duhhh – five! 

              Right now, there are some 60 million Americans between the ages 5 to 20 years old. Talk about a new market for guns.

What’s Next After Sandy Hook?


There’s a company out there, Wolfe Publishing, which publishes books and magazines about outdoor sports, which means hunting and sport shooting, in case you didn’t know. If you scroll through the Wolfe website, you’ll notice that it’s almost entirely focused on hunting and sport shooting, the latter subject covered by articles and books on handloading ammunition, customizing hunting rifles, discussions about where and how to hunt different species of game.

Ever hear of paper-patching ammunition?  I just bought a book on the subject from this website – I didn’t think there was anyone still alive who knew anything about paper-patching ammo at all.

              This website and the products it sells would be typical of the gun business were it not for the fact that the United States is the only country in the entire world which allows law-abiding residents to purchase, own and walk around the neighborhood with guns that are designed and used as weapons of war, i.e., guns whose sole purpose is to be carried into battle by military troops.

              Now I can understand how and why a military trooper isn’t going to patrol a street in a place like Kabul or Baghdad without carrying an AR-15 or a Sig M-18, which happen to be the guns currently issued to U.S. troops but can also be bought at any gun shop that you choose.

              Of course, gun makers like Sig, Glock and Bushmaster will tell you that such weapons are necessary for civilian ownership because we have the God-given ‘right’ to protect ourselves and use a gun for armed, personal defense. The only problem with this nonsense is that title notwithstanding, the Bill of Rights doesn’t grant any ‘rights’ at all. In this country, ‘rights’ are defined not by God but by laws.

Want to live in countries where God has the last word when it comes to ‘rights,’?  Move to Afghanistan or Iran.

              The fact that our legal system and the laws covering gun ownership doesn’t differentiate between guns as ‘sporting’ products versus guns being designed solely for the purpose of killing a human being is what yesterday’s decision about Remington and the Bushmaster AR-15 is really all about.

              What the gun industry has been hiding for years is the idea that a gun specifically designed and used by the military in combat situations doesn’t represent a danger to society when placed in civilian hands. 

              If you think the AR-15 manufactured by Remington didn’t represent a danger when it was shot more than 150 times in less than three minutes and killed 26 adults and children who happened to be sitting in a public school, then I suggest you open up your dictionary and see what the word ‘danger’ really means. 

Yesterday, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which happens to be located in the same town where the slaughter at Sandy Hook took place, had the balls to announce that Remington would have been found innocent if the case had gone to trial in open court. They can’t be that dumb. No – not that dumb.

              What yesterday’s agreement really represents is the possibility that gun makers who sell weapons of war as ‘sporting’ guns may find themselves facing similar lawsuits in other states which hold sellers liable when they sell a product which they know is too dangerous to be sold or owned.  I mean, how difficult would it be to find a couple of families in any state who have lost loved ones to gun violence and initiate a lawsuit against Sig or Glock?

              Actually, the guns currently manufactured by companies like Sig are being used exactly the way they were designed to be used. Ditto the companies which manufacture assault rifles like the AR-15 that was used at Sandy Hook.

              The truth is that every gun which shoots real ammunition can be used to end a human life. But that’s like saying that every car rolling down the highway can be used to smash into another car and end lives in both cars.

              But cars are made to get the driver and/or the passengers from here to there. And many guns are designed to put some venison stew on the dinner table or knock a bird out of a tree.

              What the Sandy Hook versus Remington case may mean is that the gun industry should consider getting out of the business of making products which punch holes in human beings rather than holes in paper targets hanging downrange.

What Happened at Sandy Hook.


I deeply regret that in order to write what follows, that 28 adults and children lost their lives at Newtown and Sandy Hook.

              I bought my first (but certainly not my last) assault rifle in 1978.  It was made by Colt and was called the ‘sporter.’ This gun was about as much of a sporting gun as my cat Leonard is a Siamese. 

              Why did I buy an assault rifle?  Because it was for sale. Why do you think I’ve bought any gun? Because I need another gun? Yea, right. I need another gun.

              When California passed the first assault rifle ban, which the feds copied in 1994, the gun industry invented the notion that any gun which fired in semi-automatic mode (one trigger pull, one shot) was a ‘sporting’ gun. And they maintained this fiction until yesterday, when the lawsuit brought by the families of Sandy Hook victims was settled for $73 million and the plaintiffs can release documentation about what they learned about that ‘sporting’ gun.

              Want to know what they learned?  You can learn what they learned by reading pages 3 and 4 from the official report, which states that the shooter fired 150 rounds of military-grade ammunition in the 5 minutes between when he entered the school until he shot himself in the head.  And of these 5 minutes, most of that time was spent entering or trying to enter three different rooms.

              Anyone who wants to believe that a gun which can fire 150 rounds and kill 26 adults and children in a couple of minutes is a ‘sporting’ gun will also believe that there really are Martians at Area 51 or that Donald Trump is still President of the United States. And don’t think I’m just indulging in politically-loaded hyperbole by mentioning Donald Trump. Because for years after the Sandy Hook massacre, his good friend Alex Jones stated that, in fact, nobody got shot at Sandy Hook at all.

              The gun industry’s promotion of assault rifles as ‘sporting guns’ occurred because the traditional use of guns for sport, i.e., hunting, was losing its once-dominant place in American culture over time. Remember how Davey Crockett ‘kilt him a bar’ when he was only three?

In 1977, when the country’s population was 220 million, Americans bought 14 million hunting licenses.  In 2019, with a national population of slightly less than 320 million, the same 14 million hunting licenses were sold again.

The real boost for AR-15 sales was provided by the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001, because this dreadful assault on U.S. soil, followed by invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq in 2003, created a more militaristic outlook and an increase in the demand for military-style guns.  Gun companies not only promoted assault rifles in their ads, but even showed AR-15 owners hunting while dressed in military fatigues.

But the problem for the gun industry was that you can’t really sell a gun which is designed for military use and pretend that it can replace Grandpa’s old shotgun sitting above the fireplace on the wall. So, what you do is to create a totally fictional product description called the ‘modern sporting rifle’ and get consumers to believe that there’s no real difference between this gun and any other type of gun which hunters or sport shooters carry into the field.

But there is a difference, and by settling the Sandy Hook lawsuit, the gunmaker can continue to claim that the AR-15 is just like any other type of gun, but $73 million speaks for itself.

This lawsuit could also set an interesting precedent for additional legal challenges against the gun industry, because it’s pretty difficult to argue that semi-automatic pistols made by Glock, Sig and other companies are any more ‘sporting’ than the AR-15.  And those guns are used to commit more than 125,000 intentional gun injuries every year.

If that number doesn’t represent the existence of a product which is too dangerous to be sold, then maybe there really are some Martians hiding out at Area 51.

Where Are All Those ‘Ghost Guns?’

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              Want to get all hot and bothered about nothing? Last week you had the supply-chain ‘crisis.’  This week you can have ‘ghost guns.’

              The media is all over the ‘ghost guns’ story. Just imagine that now we can’t even figure out who bought the gun that killed little Johnny innocently playing in his back yard because the gun that fired the bullet that went through Little Johnny’s head came from a gun that wasn’t actually bought or sold.

              Well, maybe the guy who made the gun by buying some parts online and putting the gun together did sell it to someone else. But since the gun wasn’t manufactured by a federally-licensed gun maker, it doesn’t have a serial number so it can’t be traced. And since the whole point of giving every gun a unique serial number is to allow the ATF to trace a gun from the factory to the wholesaler, from the wholesaler to the gun shop, from the gun shop to the buyer, from the buyer to the guy he sold the gun to who then shot little Johnny, we’ll never figure out who actually shot little Johnny because the shooter used a gun without a serial number, which is what we call a ‘ghost gun.’

              There’s only one little problem with the scenario I just described which shows how a serialized gun, as opposed to a ‘ghost gun,’ can be traced. In fact, most if not nearly all guns that are used to commit crimes can’t be traced so that the cops can figure out who actually was the end-user of that gun.

              To begin, of the nearly 400,000 traces that the ATF completed in 2020, less than 20% involved guns that were connected to violent crimes. Second, despite the ATF’s statements that their traces provide an invaluable service to local law enforcement to help solve crimes, in fact the ATF has absolutely no data on the number of traces which result in a crime being solved.

              Second, the ATF also says that its tracing activity is hampered by the fact that it can get information on the initial transfer of a gun from a dealer to a customer because that’s the point at which a background check is performed and gun dealers are required to maintain the NICS-FBI background-check information for 20 years.

              As regards this issue, the ATF is lying. Or to be more precise, the agency is blatantly lying. The data which all federally-licensed gun dealers must maintain consists of information which describes the acquisition of every gun that came through the shop and the disposition of every gun which left the shop. This is referred to as the A&D book.

              The dealer must also be able to produce the completed 4473 form which gives specific

 Information on every gun and every customer who went through the background-check process before buying a gun, as well as the same information on customers who failed the background check and couldn’t buy a gun.

              Now – read the next sentence very carefully.

              All of this data is owned by the ATF, the dealer is the custodian. What this means is that an ATF agent can walk into a gun shop unannounced at any time and examine this data for as long as he likes. He doesn’t have to tell the gun dealer why he’s in the shop or why he’s examining the A&D book, or the 4473 forms, or both.

              If an ATF agent walked into my shop and looked at the A&D book, he would discover that not only was 40% of the inventory used guns, but in many cases the gun had come back through the shop several times. Need new tires for the truck? Sell a gun. Need a new washing machine for the house? Sell a gun.

              The ATF, on the other hand,would like you to believe that they can only look at information which covers the initial transfer of a new gun. And since they make no effort to examine my paperwork to determine whether any particular gun has been sold multiple times in my shop, in effect every time I sell a used gun to a customer, I have created a ‘ghost gun.’

              Want to get hot and bothered about anything having to do with how guns are bought and sold in the United States? Just spend a bit of time thinking about how the federal agency responsible for regulating the gun business can’t be bothered to tell the truth about what it does.

In Philadelphia Gun Violence Has Nothing To Do With Public Health.

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Last week the City Council of Philadelphia produced a 194-page report, ‘100 Shooting Review Committee Report,’ which claims to be an analysis of the ‘root causes’ of gun violence, along with recommendations to deal with the problem which appears to be out of control in the City of Brotherly Love, where 2,351 fatal and non-fatal shootings set a record in 2021.

The report, which you can download here, begins with the following statement: “Firearm violence in Philadelphia is a public health crisis.” I am assuming that when the report uses the term ‘public health,’ it is referring to what Charles-Edward Amory Winslow in 1920 called “the science and art of preventing disease.”

Disease is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an illness that affects a person, an animal or a plant.” And what is an ‘illness?’ The dictionary calls it an ‘unhealthy condition.’

In other words, at some point preventing disease has to involve the practice of medicine and the people that practice medicine whom we refer to as physicians. And yet, in this entire 194-page report on a public health ‘crisis,’ not one single physician or medical organization appears even once.

Actually, what I just said isn’t completely true. Because on Page 102 the report mentions a discussion led by “Dr. Ruth Abaya – Department of Public Health.”  Except that Dr. Abaya happens to be Ruth Abaya, M.D., an attending physician in the Emergency Department of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and has been a leader in the hospital’s Violence Prevention Initiative program since 2016.

Notwithstanding the slight involvement of Dr. Abaya in the activities which formed the basis of this report, the data is almost entirely drawn from Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) and focuses on how, when and where gun violence occurs, but also the police department’s strategies to reduce violence by concentrating their efforts on identifying, arresting, and otherwise controlling the city’s population which commits violence with the use of guns.

That’s all fine and well, except this document allegedly was created to draw attention to the ‘public health crisis’ involving the use of guns. And with all due respect to the tireless and difficult job that the PPD faces in trying to reduce gun violence, this report has nothing to do with public health at all.

The report (Page 183) lists 34 contacts that individuals who engaged in gun violence had with various city agencies, mostly courts and jails, but the most frequent connection with a health-based organization was the Department of Behavioral Health, both in-patient and out-patient visits and treatments, usually for addiction to alcohol and/or drugs.

If the City of Philadelphia believes that gun violence is a public health crisis, how come there is not one, single mention of any interaction between individuals who commit gun violence and a facility or organization which provides medical services? How come the basis for all public health initiatives, which is defining and dealing with community-wide illness, is left entirely unsaid and unexplained?

As far as I’m concerned, a report whose rationale and reason for being developed is to respond to a public health ‘crisis,’ without any involvement whatsoever with medical professionals is a report that shouldn’t have been published at all.

Want to do something about gun violence without any input from the professionals who have to deal with the physical and mental damage suffered by everyone who gets shot with a gun? Fine. Call gun violence a crisis in ‘policing,’ or a crisis in community ‘safety’ or something else.

But don’t kid yourself and the public into thinking that gun violence is a public health problem which can be solved by ignoring how public health is defined and works.

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