Think Carrying A Gun Makes You Tough? Think Again.

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Anyone remember a New York City gang known as the Westies?  They were a bunch of Irish hoods from the West Side dock area known as Hell’s Kitchen who basically were responsible for maybe more than 60 murders from the 1960s until the gang was finally busted up around 1985 or 1986.  Actually, what led to the gang’s demise was the gentrification of Manhattan’s West Side, the appearance of a new neighborhood called Clinton, and the replacement of block upon block of tenement, slum housing with condos and co-ops costing a million dollars or more. But in their heyday, the Westies gang were considered a bunch of guys you didn’t mess with, because if you did, there was a good chance you would wind up dead.

then westies            In fact, it’s not clear that the Westies actually did a job on most of the victims whom the Gambino crime family paid them to rub out. Because I happened to live in another neighborhood in ‘da city’ and the gang on my street corner, who called themselves the Spades, were the guys to whom the Westies actually sub-contracted out most of the Gambino crime family work.  Imagine that – a gang of white kids who called themselves the Spades.  Oh well, those were the days.

Anyway, the guys I knew who called themselves the Spades worked construction, which meant that every day they showed up at some high-rise being built somewhere in Manhattan and hung around.  And when they did a job for the Westies, what this meant was that a van would pull up at the construction site, some guy with a bag over his head would be hustled out, then grabbed by the Spades who would trundle him up a few flights of stairs.  Six guys would go up the stairs, five guys would walk back down.  The other guy would fly back down through the elevator shaft, or out of a window, or whichever way worked best.

Dig this. The Spades were very dangerous and very violent but none of them ever carried guns.  And the reason they didn’t carry guns is because they knew that on a regular basis, usually once every evening as they were hanging around on the corner, the cops would come by, push them up against a wall and administer the Miranda warning which meant taking out a blackjack and clopping them over their heads. And if anyone was found with a gun, he was going away.  A knock on the side of the head was nothing compared to three to five in the joint.

Now you would think that guys like this would always have guns.  But what was the point of carrying a gun?  They didn’t need one to do what they did for the Westies; heaving someone off a roof had a much cleaner and guaranteed end.  And they didn’t need guns for self-protection; after all, who was going to mess with them?

I thought about the Spades and their attitude towards guns when I saw those jerks in Texas swaggering along with assault rifles slung over their backs. Do any of these open-carry morons actually believe that walking around with that gun is going to protect them from who knows what?  For that matter, would it make any difference if instead of an assault rifle openly displayed they had a Glock stuck in their pants?

I think that someone who goes around carrying a gun, particularly someone with absolutely no idea of how to use the damn thing, is just a case of arrested development playing out a childish fantasy about how big and tough he’d really like to be.  Because it’s easy to pretend standing your ground by pulling out your banger and firing away.  But what would you do if you had to deal with a difficult or dangerous situation and had to use your brain?  Oh my God! Behave like an adult?  Why me?

Lesley Stahl Might Re-think What She Knows About Smart Guns.

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With all due respect to Lesley Stahl and the staff that produced the 60 Minutes segment on smart guns, the show basically mangled the history of smart gun technology beyond repair.  And what I am referring to is her discussion about the NRA boycott of Smith & Wesson back in 1999 which brought smart-gun innovation efforts to a grinding halt. According to Stahl, the government made a deal with S&W that would have required the company to invest profits from the sale of regular guns into the development of smart guns, leading to a boycott of the gun maker which then meant that “no big U.S. gun maker ever went near a smart gun.”

Stahl’s storyline is not only important for understanding why smart-gun technologies never got off the ground, but also for explaining why the NRA and other gun organizations view smart guns as just another arrow in the gun-grabber’s quiver that is always aimed at the legal ownership of guns.  Stahl herself posted a headline on the show from the NRA-ILA website which says, “smart guns could open the door to a ban on all other guns.”  And when you stop and think about it, the ‘slippery-slope’ mantra of how any gun regulation will eventually lead to confiscation is what the gun violence argument is really all about.

armatix                There’s only one little problem.  If you want to use the Smith & Wesson boycott to explain the origins of the gun lobby’s mistrust of smart guns, you’d better get your facts straight.  Because to begin with, the boycott wasn’t led by the NRA at all, and the reasons for the boycott had nothing to do with the part of the Clinton – S&W agreement that would have mandated investment in smart guns. Here’s what really happened.

During the Clinton Administration, the gun industry faced a series of torts brought by city governments and the NAACP who claimed that the industry was not effectively policing the sale of its products, hence there were too many deaths and injuries from guns.  In the midst of the legal battle, Clinton offered the gun makers relief by asking them to agree to new sales and distribution practices in return for which the government would immunize them against tort suits.  A committee representing the gun industry began negotiating with the Clinton bunch, then S&W jumped ship, walked away from the negotiations and announced they were ready to cut their own deal.  The boycott was initiated by S&W’s largest distributor, a company called RSR, and while the NRA came around and supported the boycott, they never really led the fight.

I not only recall the boycott, but I also have taken the trouble to read the agreement which S&W actually signed.  What’s interesting about the agreement is that some of its provisions (gun locks, loaded chamber indicators) were adopted by the gun industry without real pushback of any kind.  But the heart of the agreement was the requirement that gun makers would also be responsible for the behavior of all dealers selling their guns.  And let’s understand that being a gun dealer for Smith & Wesson isn’t like being a car dealer for General Motors or Ford.  Want to be a Smith & Wesson dealer?  Buy a dealer’s license from the ATF and get some wholesaler to ship you a Smith & Wesson gun.  Back in the early 90s, S&W conducted a survey of who was selling their products, and they found that 90% of their dealers transferred less than 50 every year.  The reason that one of the company’s distributors led the boycott was because this wholesaler knew that the terms of this agreement – at the point of sale – could never be met.

I’m not so sure that the gun industry was wrong in viewing this agreement as a back-door effort to get rid of guns. Which means that the slippery-slope argument against gun control may contain a grain of truth.  And remember, we’re dealing with an industry in which a little bit of truth goes a long, long way.

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