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How Come (Some) Americans Love Their Guns?

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              Last week I found out that Smith & Wesson is shutting down its factory in Springfield, MA and moving the entire operation down to Tennessee.  S&W moved some of its warehousing to Tennessee last year, and now the entire company, which started producing guns in Springfield in the 1860’s, is relocating to the South.

              The small arms industry emerged in various sites along the Connecticut River, thanks to the decision by George Washington to fund a government arsenal in Springfield to produce military rifles after the Revolutionary War. Washington justified the arsenal’s location because the Connecticut River above Hartford, CT was too shallow for British warships to come up and bomb the facility to smithereens. But the real reason the arsenal was located in Massachusetts was as a payoff to Washington’s good friend, Henry Knox, who was a Massachusetts resident and became the country’s first Secretary of War.

              Knox was the man whose remarkable effort to bring heavy cannons from Ticonderoga to Boston in 1775 broke the British siege and probably saved the Revolution. The arsenal, which opened in 1777, spawned a host of smaller gun makers up and down the Connecticut River Valley, which became known as Gun Valley, and was the location of such iconic gun companies as S&W, Colt, Ruger, Marlin, and Winchester, none of which are operating in their original locations today.

              So, the gun companies have all disappeared from where they were first located, but all these companies and lots of other gun makers are still producing and selling weapons in the United States and abroad. In 2019, American gun companies produced 7 million weapons and accounted for 35% of all small arms exported throughout the world.

              How and why does the United States have such an overwhelming devotion to small arms? After all, you don’t need to make a small, semi-automatic rifle or handgun in order to manufacture an F-35. Many countries have suitable, well-armored military forces without extending the ownership or use of weapons to the civilian side.

              And by the way, thanks to the incisive reportage by Mike Spies, for all the talk several years ago about how the National Rifle Association was on its last legs and Wayne LaPierre was on his way out the door, I just sent in an extra donation for my Golden Eagles membership and received a nice thank-you letter from Wayne.

              I had three hobbies as a kid: toy trains, toy soldiers and toy guns.  My mother got sick of tripping over the train tracks on the floor, so the trains were boxed up and given away.  I stopped collecting toy soldiers when they were no longer made out of lead because the plastic soldiers were just too crummy and cheap. But I switched from toy guns to the real thing when in 1956 I bought my first Smith & Wesson in a straw sale in Florida when I was twelve years old.

              The manufacture of small arms was one of the principal commodities which emerged in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution, both in the United States and abroad. Guns were easy to make, parts could be quickly fitted together on a primitive assembly line, and the whole technology of creating a gaseous propellant by igniting some dry chemicals had been known since 10th-Century Chinese times.

              But the reason why guns became a fixture of commonplace life in America was because we were the only country which experienced its industrial revolution at the same time that its frontier was being opened, settled, and turned into farmland to produce edible commodities for urban life.

              The first modern guns were manufactured in Europe, particularly in Italy, around the 14th Century, with the technology quickly spreading into France, Central Europe and beyond. The frontier in these zones had been entirely eradicated nearly one thousand years previously as the Roman legions came up from the South and the Germanic tribes came down from the North.

              When was Paris first settled? Try somewhere around 225 B.C.  Not A.D., okay? B.C.

               Most of the land mass which today covers the habitable regions of our Lower 48 was transformed into living and farming space less than a century ago. When the Census declared that the frontier was ‘closed’ in 1890, this mean that at least one person had a permanent habitation located within one mile of someone else.

              If you wanted to be one of those early settlers in most of the Lower 48, you needed a plow, a saw, and a gun. And thanks to the Industrial Revolution, all three objects were cheap and readily available for anyone to purchase and use.

              In other words, guns truly are as American, if not more American than apple pie. And the idea that a bunch of highly educated, urban professionals are going to convince a majority of their fellow citizens that guns represent some kind of risk is like saying that Dirty Harry was a movie character about some detective who used a 44-magnum revolver to chase the bad guys around in England and France.

Why Don’t We Regulate the Gun Industry?

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            Last week the House voted another assault weapons ban which will probably die in the Senate or at least will be sidetracked until after the mid-terms. But even if the bill doesn’t go forward, my friends in Gun-control Nation need to understand what such a bill really means and how it should be used as we continue to look for ways to reduce a threat to public health called gun violence which kills and injures more than 125,000 Americans every year.

            What I have never understood about my friends who advocate for more gun control is their reluctance to focus on the only issue which can really result in a meaningful decline in gun violence, namely, regulating the industry which produces the products which are used to commit deaths and injuries from guns.

            Every other country that regulates guns to reduce gun violence focuses first and foremost on regulating the guns themselves.  Canada just imposed a temporary ban on handgun imports until a new gun-control law is passed which will eliminate the ownership of handguns that are used in most Canadian gun assaults.

            Countries like France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K. also impose severe restrictions on owning certain types of handguns, while imposing few or any conditions on purchasing or owning long guns.

            How do we regulate the industry whose products are the only products whose access and availability creates gun violence? We regulate how the products move from the manufacturer to the retailer to the customer. We also try to regulate the behavior of the customer, the gun owner, by imposing a background check on whether they are law-abiding before they purchase a gun.

            So how is it that with regulations that only allow newly manufactured guns to move from manufacturers to dealers to consumers, all of whom have to be either licensed or prove themselves to be law-abiding, we wind up with 125,000 guns being used to commit fatal and non-fatal injuries every year? 

            WTFK. And if you need someone to tell you what that acronym means, ask any 12-year-old kid.

            Want to reduce the number of Americans who are killed or injured with guns every year?  It’s very simple. Regulate the gun industry the way we regulate every other consumer industry by regulating what types of products can and cannot be sold.

            I was a VP of IT at one of the largest insurance companies in the United States which routinely introduced new insurance products all the time. Every, single one of these products had to be examined and approved by a regulatory body in every state to make sure the product conformed to the relevant laws for what kinds of insurance could be sold in that state.

            Want to get a new food product onto the shelves of Stop and Shop or some other grocery chain? Either the state agency which tests and approves foods gives you the green light or you can stick your new product you know where or try to sell it to Venezuela or Belize.

            So, we have a very comprehensive regulatory system for making sure that just about everything a consumer can buy meets some very clear standards in terms of safety and design. Except when it comes to guns, which even if they were regulated like roller skates or motorcycle helmets are still as dangerous as all gitgo.

            Want to manufacture and sell a gun to American consumers?  All you need to do is get a manufacturer’s license from the ATF, which is nothing more than passing a background check. Then make sure that the gun is a certain length if it’s a rifle or a shotgun, otherwise it’s a handgun. Then make sure that when someone loads the gun and pulls the trigger, only one bullet comes out at a time.

            And that’s it. That’s how you will be regulated if you want to make a consumer product that has killed more than 375,000 Americans over the past ten years.

But gun makers producing assault rifles will be regulated by having to make sure their guns meet certain design standards if the new law somehow gets to the Senate floor and gets passed. Too bad that assault rifles account for a small fraction of the fatal and non-fatal gun injuries that occur every year.

            Either my friends in Gun-control Nation cut the bullshit about gun control and start holding meaningful discussions about how to regulate the products made by the gun industry that cause all those injuries or as Grandpa would say ‘gurnisht’ (read: nothing) will change.

            And this goes for my friends in public health research as well who spend all their time doing research on the effectiveness of this law and that law which regulate how people behave with guns but oh, we can’t regulate the gun makers because they have 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ to produce and sell whatever they want to produce and sell.

            Gaston Glock designed a gun to be used by the military and the United States is the only country which lets civilians own this type of gun. Gun makers shouldn’t have any such ‘rights’ at all.

Was 2019 A Good Or Bad Year For Gun Sales?

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              Every year about a week into the new year, the FBI publishes a report covering how many NICS background checks were performed the previous year.  And while this number doesn’t cover all gun transfers, what we do learn from this data is the number of guns that move from gun dealers to gun owners, which is a very accurate way of determining whether Americans are still in love with their guns.

              Gun-nut Nation has been building up expectations about the gun industry’s recovery from the Trump slump for the past several months. At the beginning of December, Fox News crowed that “gun background checks on record to break record in 2019.” And when the year-end numbers came out, the pro-gun noise machine immediately announced with unbridled joy that “2019’s count is the most since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System began in 1998.”

              Know the old line about how figures don’t lie but liars sure can figure? What Gun-nut Nation is saying about the health of their beloved industry based on the 2019 FBI-NICS numbers is true, except the truth happens to hide an important detail that completely undercuts the argument about how the gun business is alive and well.  And that detail happens to be the fact that more than half of the FBI-NICS checks conducted each month have nothing to do with guns actually being sold or transferred into consumer’s hands. These non-sale checks cover issuing and renewing licenses, taking guns out of pawn, rentals, private sales, all kinds of transactions which, if anything, reflect the extent to which gun ownership is an increasingly regulated activity which goes far beyond retail gun sales. If anything, the increase in NICS checks should be seen not as a sign of gun industry health, but of the degree to which the regulatory environment continues to grow.

              What really spurred the slight increase in December gun sales, which were 4% higher in 2019 than what was recorded for December, 2018, was that gun makers, wholesalers and retailers all cut prices in order to bring buyers into the stores. Right now I can walk into a gun shop near me and buy the Smith & Wesson Shield pistol for seventy bucks under the MSRP.  That’s a price break?  That’s a price collapse.

              If and when the Democrats begin narrowing down the field of Presidential candidates looking to grab the brass ring and the chosen candidate decides to push an aggressive anti-gun position as part of his or her campaign, we might see a real upturn in gun sales without the gun industry forcing the issue by cutting prices. But if the issue of gun violence is a function not of gun ownership per se, but guns getting into the ‘wrong’ hands, who cares how many guns are bought and sold as long as the individuals engaging in these transactions never commit any kind of violent behavior with their guns?

              If it were only that simple. If we only had a regulatory system which could keep the most lethal consumer product ever developed away from individuals who are either too stupid or too violent to behave properly with a gun. On the other hand, what do we really mean when we talk about behaving properly or responsibly with a gun? Aren’t we really saying that guns should only be used in ways that will negate the possibility of injuring yourself or someone else? If that’s the case, we have a little problem because the whole point of buying a gun like the Smith & Wesson Shield pistol is to use it, when necessary, to hurt someone else.

              One way or another, we are going to have to face the fact that many people believe in the notion of ‘virtuous violence,’ meaning that using violence for a good reason (e.g., self-defense) is why they buy a gun.  And as long as our approach to regulating guns allows gun makers to appeal to folks who see violence as sometimes being a good thing, we will find ourselves looking for some kind of silver lining in the FBI-NICS numbers each month.

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