A Fun Gun Story For The New Year.


I recently received a note from a reader who wanted me to write some ‘fun’ stories about guns. And why not?  After all, for those of us who enjoy guns because we just like to shoot them, or talk about them, or play with them, guns are a lot of fun.  So here’s one of those stories which ends in heartbreak but that’s how most good stories end.

M&P              I used to have a friend in the gun business named Joe DeSaye. He owned a wholesale gun company called J&G (named after himself and his ex-wife Grace), which is still a family-owned business even though Joe, of blessed memory, is long gone.  Anyway, Joe used to sell most of his inventory through a gun newspaper called Shotgun News.  Most of Joe’s ads were for used handguns, many of them police trade-ins, and many of them guns that he bought from me.  I’ll spare the details of how I accumulated and sold Joe upwards of 10,000 used handguns every year; it was all legal commerce and Joe only dealt with customers who held a valid FFL.

One day in 1984 or 1985 Joe calls me (he lived in Arizona and I was in New York) and tells me that he’s got a “line” on an “incredible stash of guns.”  But he couldn’t talk on the phone because he was at some place where he might be overheard, so I had to call him back that night when he got home.  That night Joe tells me that the United States Postal Inspectors had just purchased 4,000 new Smith & Wesson stainless magnum revolvers – the 4-inch Model 66 – and were giving them out to every postal inspector who was turning in his own gun.  Evidently the Postal Inspectors had been allowed to carry whatever sidearm they chose, but now the force was getting modern and everyone was going to carry a Model 66.

Joe then further told me that the 4,000 duty weapons previously carried by the Inspectors were sitting in a warehouse at the Marine base in Quantico but Joe had “friends” in the Post Office, and these friends had agreed to let Joe enter a sole bid for the guns.  So I was going to go down to Quantico, take a look at the guns to make sure they were in good enough shape to be resold, and then Joe would submit the bid.

The next day I drove down to Quantico, and after checking me out at the security gate, I was taken to an unmarked, corrugated-metal storage building somewhere on the base.  Got out of the car, walked into a big room, lights went on, and I was surrounded by 4,000 handguns neatly stacked in piles all over the floor.  And what piles!  Over here were beautiful, commercial versions of the Colt 1911 with the shiny, royal blue Colt finish, not a blemish or a scratch.  Over there were Smith & Wesson 45-caliber M&P revolvers, the 5-inch models manufactured before World War II. There were even some original Colt, Single Action Army guns in 44-40 and 45. I was dizzy; I was beside myself with joy.  I couldn’t have cared less how much Joe and I would make on this deal, I just wanted to keep about 100 of the guns for myself.

Know what happened?  The next day there was a story about a local police chief in Virginia who sold some confiscated guns to a gun shop who sold one of the guns to a jerk who then shot his wife with the gun.  And the day after that, the Postal Service loaded the entire pile on a cargo plane, flew the plane over the ocean and dumped my 4,000 guns into the sea.

I suppose it’s better that those guns ended up underwater than even one of them ending up in the wrong hands.  But they still could have let me take 100 of them home.  I could have always made room by throwing out some of my Lionel trains.


Bye Bye, American Pie: The End Of Colt Firearms.

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If kids growing up today learn the word Apple for their first consumer product, then when I grew up in the 1950s, the first consumer product name we knew was Colt.  So there’s a bit of personal regret, I must admit, at the not-unexpected news that Colt, the storied old gun manufacturer, has slipped into Chapter 11 and appears to be on the way out. This won’t be the first time that Colt has hit the skids, in fact the company almost didn’t survive shortly after Samuel Colt started it up in 1836, and it went through bad times – work stoppages, strikes, business downturns – on a regular basis every ten or twenty years. In fact, my father’s first job was at Colt’s in 1941 but he decided not to remain with the company because my mother didn’t particularly like living in Hartford and he was convinced that the company would fall on hard times once World War II came to an end.  He was right. It did.

colt                Colt’s has not only been the oldest, continually-operating manufacturing company in America (although sometimes it operated in name only) but the rampant Colt logo, which adorns the frame of every gun, was the first commercial logo ever copyrighted in the United States.  The problem with the company, however, was that it always tied its product development to what it perceived would be the next generation of military small arms, and while it guessed correctly sometimes, such as with the Colt 1911 pistol, other times it guessed wrong.  And because it guessed wrong on the military side, it missed changes in the civilian market as well.

The biggest mistake the company made was to tie its fortunes over the last several decades to the M-16 battle rifle, whose design Colt purchased from Gene Stoner in 1961 and then began receiving large military contracts in the build-up in Viet Nam.  By the 1980s the original patents had expired, Colt could no longer protect its brand, and other companies like Bushmaster and FN began outselling the Hartford-made product both to the U.S. military and abroad.

You would think that Colt would have revived over the last few years given the upsurge in demand for black guns (a.k.a. assault rifles, a.k.a. modern sporting rifles) on the civilian side, but this didn’t happen at all.  First, other companies like Bushmaster and DPMS had focused their marketing on commercial sales, and this made Colt just one of many companies now selling to the public at large what had become a generic gun design.  Second, Colt abandoned revolver production in the mid-1990s, never got into small, polymer-frame pistols which were the coming thing, and kids turning into gun-buying adults just don’t watch cowboy movies any more.  It’s hard for me, a pre-Boomer, to imagine not knowing the name Colt, but I’ll bet you my teen-age grandson has no idea what the name means at all.

But leaving aside issues of consumer tastes and how those tastes change, I think there’s another major reason why Colt’s is on the veritable block, namely, the fact that the demand for black guns has run its course, and none of the gun companies whose balance-sheets are dependent on sporting-goods sales of ARs are having an easy time.  Even Smith & Wesson, whose AR products only accounts for a small percentage of their overall sales, admitted that the 10% decline in overall revenues for Q3 on a year-to-year basis was from a shrinking AR market which “drove most of the sales decline.”

A gun company selling only one, basic product which nobody wants to buy is a gun company in trouble.  And no matter what the NRA and all the pro-gun advocates say, guns still represent a particular consumer product which a majority of American consumers can do without.  And if Americans can do without guns, they can even do without an iconic name like Colt.


Don’t Look Now, But Obama Ain’t The Only One Trying To Take Away Our Guns.

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There’s a gun nut in Alabama named Mike Rogers who represents the 3rd Congressional District, an area which includes the town of Anniston.  And every gun nut like me knows Anniston because it’s the headquarters of the Civilian Marksmanship Program, aka the CMP.  One of the easiest ways to get certified as a gun nut is to buy a rifle from the CMP.  I bought two of the surplus M-1 Garands , one an original made at Springfield, the second a 1950’s makeover turned out by Harrington & Richardson located right up the road in Spencer, MA.

Congressman Rogers, like most Republicans, has no trouble pushing government spending if the money is somehow connected to the military and the result is to create civilian jobs.  So he’s attached an amendment to the 2016 military spending bill which changes the law covering the CMP. If the amendment stays in the bill, from now on civilians will not only be able to purchase rifles, but all “firearms” that the Army considers to be surplus and thus available for anyone to buy.  And it further turns out that the Army happens to be sitting on 100,000 old Colt 45 pistols that were first brought into service in 1911 and then replaced by the Beretta 9mm beginning in 1981.

colt1911a1                There are probably more pistols built on the Colt 1911 frame than any other handgun ever made.  Commercial models newly manufactured by various companies sell quite well; hundreds of thousands manufactured overseas have been imported back into the States.  I have probably owned at least a dozen Colt 1911s since I bought my first commercial model in 1976, but the ones that were made for the military and are stamped “United States Property” are few and far between.  As opposed to the M-1 Garand and Carbine, of which the Army has probably sold off several million guns, the pistol has never been made available to the civilian market, although on occasion one pops up here or there.

The problem that gun nut Rogers has encountered, however, is that the Army doesn’t appear willing to go along with his scheme.  Last week the military sent a memorandum to Congress citing concerns about public safety, accountability and possible violations of federal gun laws that needed “additional study” before the CMP’s charter could be revised.  In brief, the Army feels that these handguns, as opposed to CMP rifles, would be released to the public through unverified, online sales, therefore could not be traced by the ATF, and would therefore be a violation of the Gun Control Act of 1968. And don’t think that the Army made this up on its own because the document cites as its source for this information none other than the DOJ.

This document is a quintessential example of the blind leading the dumb, or maybe the other way around.  The CMP ships all its guns from and to federally-licensed dealers; purchasers must fill out a NICS background check form and agree that NICS must approve the transaction before the gun is released.  Judging by my experience when I bought my Garands, the CMP creates a larger paper trail for each transaction than anything done in the local shop. Incidentally, although the Army cites DOJ as the source for this misinformation, the DOJ no doubt was given this nonsense by those regulatory geniuses at the ATF.

Given the stink that was made over the ATF’s attempt to ban some 223 ammo, you would think that the gun lobby would be yelling and screaming about what is a bone fide violation of 2nd-Amendment rights.  But while some of the pro-gun blogs are blazing away, so far the NRA has uttered nary a peep.  And I’ll bet they continue to keep their mouths shut, because for all their talk about being the first line of ‘defense’ for gun owners’ rights, these stalwart defenders of the Constitution aren’t about to say jack when it’s the  Army and not Obama who wants to keep us from owning guns.




What Should Physicians Do About Guns? Tell The Truth.

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Last week I attended a conference on medicine and gun violence in which a cross-section of researchers and clinicians focused on how to figure out if patients are at risk for gun violence and how to intervene appropriately when such a clinical situation appears to exist.  The problem raises medical, legal and ethical issues involving proper patient care, privacy, liability and other questions that the medical profession has been wrestling with for a long time but have really come home to roost this year.  Three states have now passed laws limiting the degree to which physicians can ask patients about guns and only a last-minute surge of votes from Democratic Senators who will shortly be replaced by Republicans allowed a Surgeon General to be confirmed whose views are decidedly anti-gun.

Throughout the conference I kept listening to presentations which were based on an assumption about medicine and guns which I’m not sure is really true.  And the assumption goes like this: in order to effectively raise the issue of gun risk, the physician must first determine whether a patient is, indeed, a risk to himself or others if he has access to a gun.  And if the physician determines that the patient is, in fact, a health risk if there’s a gun around, how do you determine the degree of gun access without invading the patient’s right to privacy or infringing on his right to own a gun whether he’s a risk for gun violence or not?

docs versus glocks                The reason I’m not comfortable with this assumption is because I happen to believe one simple thing about guns, namely, that if there is a gun lying around, locked or unlocked, the risk of gun injury is simply much greater than if the gun doesn’t exist.  To borrow a phrase from the late Elmore Leonard, “Don’t fool with guns in here, okay? The goddamn piece’s liable to go off.”  Now researchers can parse all the data with a fine-tooth comb from today until next year, but the bottom line is exactly what Leonard says: if it’s around sooner or later it’s going to go off.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not anti-gun, no matter what many people who read this blog and others will choose to believe.  I currently own two black guns, a Colt H-Bar and a Ruger Mini-14, along with a Mossberg tactical shotgun, a Marlin 30-30, without doubt the single best deer gun ever made, and one of those Remington 700s in 270 Winchester which might go off even if the trigger isn’t pulled.  Not that I’m against handguns, for that matter, because I also own every Glock in 9, the two John Browning masterpieces, a Colt 1911 and a P-35, a Walther PP in 22, another Walther PP in 32, a little TPH for when I’m out walking in shorts, three or four K-frame Smiths and just for good measure, a S&W Model 39. And I almost forgot the two Sigs I own, the new little guys in 380 and 9. But I know one thing about all my toys – put a round in the chamber, pull the trigger and if someone’s standing in the direction in which the gun is pointed, they’re going down.

It’s all well and good that physicians are concerned about how to make guns safer, how to keep them out of the “wrong” hands, how to lock them up or lock them away.  But I think what doctors should do is always tell all their patients that a gun can cause real harm.  And they should say it again and again. My internist doesn’t ask whether I smoke before cautioning me not to light up a cigarette.  Pediatricians don’t ask parents whether they fasten the child’s seatbelt before reminding them to make sure the kids ride safe.  The role of the physician, every physician, is to reduce harm.  Not having a gun reduces harm.  The patient doesn’t agree with you, that’s fine.  But you did what is required and expected of you, which was to say something true about risk from guns.

America Goes To War And Takes Its Guns

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Most of the design and engineering advances that created modern small arms came through the development of military weapons, both rifles like the Springfield 03 or handguns like John Browning’s Colt 1911. And whether it was the M-1 Garand that General Patton called the “greatest battle implement ever devised,” or the Winchester repeating carbine that the U.S. Cavalry carried against the Indians, it’s safe to say that guns played an important role in just about every war that America fought.

It should therefore come as no surprise that guns are once again playing an essential, if not a pivotal role in what is perhaps America’s longest-lasting war.  I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan, although both of those conflicts have dragged on far too long.  I’m talking instead about America’s “culture” war for which guns and gun ownership have come to define both the ebb and flow of the conflict as well as the basic attitudes of both sides.

Guns were first tied to the culture war when Charlton Heston became NRA President in  1998.  Heston and other members of his Hollywood generation began turning conservative when Ronald Reagan, won the Presidency in 1980. But while Reagan boosted conservative fortunes he was always ambivalent about the culture war; kept evangelicals at arm’s length, was never seen inside a church, and rarely, if ever, invoked the virtues and values of gun ownership or membership in the NRA.  In fact, along with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, Reagan sent a letter to the House of Representatives in 1994 advocating an assault-rifle ban that was enacted later in the year.

Until the 2008 election of Obama, the culture war embraced issues like abortion and gay rights, both of which took precedence over guns.  And even though Bill Clinton blamed the 1994 Republican Congressional sweep and the 2000 defeat of Al Gore on the power of the NRA, the outcome of both elections couldn’t be tied specifically to anything having to do with guns.

The ascendency of guns in the cultural war didn’t reflect so much the growing power of the gun-owning lobby as it was the result of conservative shifts away from other issues for which they simply could not muster enough votes to win.  On abortion, for example, the nation appears evenly split but Rowe v. Wade is now forty years old and as women continue to move forward in the workplace and the professions, a woman’s right to choose seems fairly secure.  As for the gay issue, 19 states have now legalized same-sex marriage and last year the SCOTUS invalidated the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which opens the door for many more states to lift their own gay marriage bans.

sarah                So as the older, hot-button cultural issues gradually wither away (remember something called English as the official language?), gun ownership and gun “rights” move to center stage.  And guns are a perfect means to build support for conservative cultural warriors because their ownership, after all, is enshrined in the most holy of all cultural holies, the Bill of Rights.  Even the leader of the liberals, whether he means it or not, is forced to sing hosannas to the 2nd Amendment as his shock-troops prepare to do battle against the other side.

The problem with cultural conflicts is they cannot be resolved with reference to facts.  Because as Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky pointed out long before the culture war rose to the level of conflict that we see today, people make decisions about things like gun ownership not because they understand or even care about whether a gun can or cannot protect them from harm, but whether ownership of a gun either supports or conflicts with their world view.  If both sides in the gun debate don’t find a way to resolve their arguments by reconciling larger cultural issues, it will drag on the way the Chaco War dragged on between Paraguay and Bolivia over a border that neither country could even find.

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