Commercial Ammunition: The Untold Story

From Ammo.com.

To understand how American citizens today can get their hands on ammo, which rolls off the same factory lines as those that supply the world’s largest militaries, it’s important to first understand how munitions technology developed. Starting in medieval Europe, on a battlefield where a mounted knight in armor could defeat almost any number of peasants, the development of more advanced and accurate ways to destroy enemy personnel and equipment by launching a projectile is one which combines trial and error, scientific ingenuity, and private enterprise. It’s a story of power and technology dating back to the 13th century, at the height of “the divine right of kings,” and tracks the subsequent diffusion of that power held by a chosen few as the individual became capable of breaking the state’s monopoly on violence.

The first recorded use of gunpowder appeared in Europe in 1247, although China had used gunpowder for centuries before that, mostly for fireworks. The cannon appeared nearly 100 years later in 1327, with a hand-sized version making its debut in 1364. The first ordnances were made of stone, and while it might have been theoretically possible for anyone to own one, this would have been outside the financial reach of anyone but the nobility.

Stone was quickly discarded as a source of materiel for one simple reason: It wasn’t effective against stone fortifications. Thus did the first ever arms race begin, as medieval armies sought ways to fire heavier and heavier projectiles. The first recorded example of a metal ball being fired from a hand cannon came in 1425, with the invention of the hand culverin and matchlock arquebus, which led to lead balls becoming the gold standard for projectiles. This is where we get the term “bullet” – boulette is French for “little ball.”

Ammunition remained largely the same for centuries: Little balls of metal virtually anyone could make. This was true until the invention of rifling in the mid-19th century. Even this invention was, at first, not terribly useful for military purposes. Not only did the barrels quickly become useless, but the barrels often could not be fitted with a bayonet. This made early rifles impractical for military use and mostly a bit of a toy. Not until the advent of progressive rifling (which came, depending on one’s point of view, fortuitously or not, in the middle of the U.S. Civil War), did rifles become practical for military, and also widespread civilian purposes.

Copper jacketed bullets arrived in 1882, but since then the development of both military and commercial ammo has largely been about degrees rather than revolutionary innovations like rifling. The same basic design for cartridges has been in place since the late 19th Century.

Advancing technology was likely a driver in the move toward ammunition produced for commercial purposes, rather than simply military use. While in the past, it was common to simply make lead balls in front of the fire as a family after dinner, making a modern rifle cartridge is far beyond the means of most people. Further, it requires safety procedures above and beyond simply molding lead balls.

What Is the Difference Between Civilian and Military Ammunition?

For the most part, the distinction between civilian and military ammunition is largely down to marketing. However, there are some important differences between civilian and military (often known as “milspec”) including:

Treaty Restrictions

All military ammunition is full metal jacket. There are military treaties requiring this on an international scale, beginning with the Hague Convention in 1899. Civilian ammo is not subject to such requirements and can be full metal jacket, composite, hollow point or any other configuration.

As a rule, civilian ammunition is designed to expand upon impact. Military ammo is not, due to treaty restrictions. Military ammunition frequently passes through a target with no serious damage, whereas civilian rounds are designed for “one shot, one kill.” This is not a purely humanitarian consideration: Wounded soldiers are a greater burden for an army than dead ones.

Climate Protection

Military ammunition comes with moisture sealant, while civilian ammunition does not. This is due to the wide array of climates that military ammunition might be used, as well as the fact that military ammunition might be stored for decades before it is actually used.

Primers

Military ammunition primers are harder than its civilian counterparts. This helps to prevent accidental discharges, the worst case scenario of which is when a weapon gets stuck in automatic fire mode.

Chamber Pressures

The chamber pressures are different between military and commercial ammunition, though the degree to which they are different varies significantly from one caliber to another. As an example, the  7.62x51mm NATO and the .308 Winchester are basically the same round, but the NATO(military) version has lower pressure.

Sometimes the military version of a round can be fired through a weapon chambered for the civilian version and vice versa – but sometimes the compatibility only works one way. For example, the military weapon can fire the civilian round, but the civilian weapon cannot fire the military round. Never assume that a military and civilian round and chamber are cross-compatible.

Consistency

Civilian ammunition tends to be far more consistent in terms of its dimensions than military ammunition. Because every round simply must feed and fire properly, military ammo allows for looser tolerances than civilian ammunition.

Casings

Military ammunition casings tend to have thicker walls because, as a general rule, they are subject to higher pressures than civilian rounds.

It’s common for civilians to buy military ammunition, either because they want the particular qualities of that cartridge or because they simply want to get a deal on price. For the most part, there’s no problem with buying surplus ammo provided that your weapon can handle it. You should also examine the ammunition when you receive it — as stated above, it’s not uncommon for rounds to sit in storage for decades.

The Springfield Armory and Commercial Ammunition

Commercial Ammunition: How Ammo Went From the Military to the Civilian Market

Today, the Springfield Armory is a historic site. However, it used to produce the lion’s share of American military hardware and, through the secondary surplus market, a good deal of the commercial ammunition floating around. All told, the site manufactured ammunition from 1777 all the way until 1968. It was both the first federal armory and one of the first American factories dedicated to the manufacture of ammunition.

The use of the location for military training dates back to the colonial days, when George Washington personally scouted and approved of the site during the Revolutionary War. The entire city of Springfield was built around the armory, which wasn’t much to speak of at the time: Little more than an intersection of rivers and roads. These features, however, are what made the location optimal for the manufacture of weaponry for the war effort. What’s more, the Connecticut River provided a natural defense against naval attack.

Shays Rebellion attacked the Armory, but was unsuccessful, as the state militia was able to defend it from attack using grapeshot. The Armory started producing ordnance in 1793, which included everything from paper cartridges and musket balls all the way up to howitzers. Flash forward to the post-Civil War period, and for a brief time this was the only federal armory in operation after the destruction of Harpers Ferry. It produced the first firearm native to America, the Model 1795, a .69 caliber flintlock musket.

The Springfield Armory was a huge driver of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. This was part of the United States military’s need for replaceable parts on the battlefield under the theory that it was easier to replace parts than it was to repair weapons on the battlefield. In turn, this made it easier for the average person to own and maintain a firearm. No longer did one have to know anything about gunsmithing or pay a gunsmith to keep a weapon in good working order. Now one could simply replace parts as they broke down.

Commercial Ammunition in America: The Big Four

For clues to where the story of commercial ammunition comes from, it’s worth looking at the history of America’s oldest weapons and ammunition manufacturers: RemingtonSmith & WessonColt and Winchester. These are four American brands as iconic as Coca-ColaLevi’sMcDonald’s or General Motors. And they all play a role in the transformation of the arms industry from a martial enterprise into a commercial one.

Remington

Remington Arms is the oldest gunmaker and operates the oldest factory still making firearms and ammunition to this day. It is also the largest domestic producer of rifles and shotguns. Remington is responsible for the development of more cartridges than any other ammunition manufacturer in the world. As such, they are not just an early adopter in the world of commercial ammunition manufacturing and sales – they are also a world titan of commerce.

The transformation of Elijah Remington from a shooting enthusiast into a gunsmith gives us a bit of insight into commercial ammunition development. He designed his own flintlock rifle for a shooting competition. He didn’t win, but observers were so astonished with his custom-made weapon that offers started pouring in.

Weapons like the Remington Model 1858 were a big part of what won the West. Buffalo Bill Cody carried a modified version of this weapon, in the form of a New Model Army .44 with an ivory handle – which sold for $239,000 at auction in June 2012. Likewise, the Remington Rolling Block rifle helped to clear the West of buffalo, and it’s estimated that more of the American bison fell to this weapon than any other, along with the Sharps rifle.

Colt

The next big name to appear on the scene was Samuel Colt. While his company did not incorporate until 1855, his game-changing percussion revolver, the Colt Paterson, hit the markets in 1836. This was the first revolver and Colt held a monopoly on the production of revolvers through his patent until 20 years later. Unlike earlier weapons designed by Springfield specifically for the purpose of the military, Colt designed his weapon and then later, in an act of shrewd business, was able to sell his design to the United States military. While the innovative design was able to give troops some firepower advantage, the weapons were also notoriously unreliable in combat and were more suited for civilian purposes.

Colt’s New Model Revolving rifle, an attempt to port revolver technology to the rifle, was likewise a hit on the civilian market. It was the preferred weapon of armed guards on the Pony Express, particularly those guarding the extremely dangerous stretch between Independence, MO, and Santa Fe, NM. This particular leg never lost any mail.

Smith & Wesson

Smith & Wesson first began tinkering around with weaponry in 1852. The fruit of their labor was the Volcanic rifle. They were also the first company of note to develop a revolver after Samuel Colt’s patent expired in 1857.

The Civil War represents a turning point in the history of American commercial ammo. Many of the pistols carried by enlisted men, and officers alike, were purchased privately. What’s more, in middle of the war, modern rifling was invented, meaning that weapons became far more accurate, useful and deadly. Handloading became a far more niche hobby – and in any event, the innovation was mostly coming out of the Big Four. Though, it was also the post-Civil War period which saw the rise of wildcatting, where amateur gunsmiths and handloaders were finding ways to improve the commercial offerings on the market.

The post-Civil War period also saw both the United States military and civilian communities turning toward the final conquest of the Old West from the native population. While the impact of the United States Army on this cannot be overstated, it was armed American civilians who settled the West, and demand for weapons and ammunition was high.

Winchester

It was also the period after the end of the Civil War that saw the entry of the final of the Big Four onto the scene: Winchester. The pre-history of Winchester lies in the first company incorporated by Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, not to be confused with the famous company bearing their name to this day. Their original company was responsible for the Volcanic rifle, the world’s first repeating rifle. Known as Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, it was largely funded by Oliver Winchester. The pair left the company and it was reorganized as New Haven Arms Company, and then as Winchester Repeating Arms Company. While Winchester was the last entrant on the market, they quickly made up for lost time by debuting the Winchester rifle, which quickly earned the sobriquet “The Gun That Won the West.”

While the Winchester rifle saw action in the United States military during the series of conquests known collectively as the Indian Wars, it was an enormously popular civilian weapon, with a whopping 720,000 sold and built. The original Winchester rifle, the Model 1866 (nicknamed “the Yellow Boy”) saw high demand all the way to the end of the century, due to their low cost. The weapon continues production to this day and is approximately as synonymous with the Old West as a Stetson.

Its successor, the Model 1873, was the first Winchester rifle chambered for the 44-40. If the Winchester rifle was the Gun That Won the West, this was certainly the “Cartridge That Won the West.” The primary market for this round was not the military, but lawmen, settlers, and cowboys for the simple reason that it could be used in both a rifle and a pistol. This eliminated the need to carry two different types of ammunition at all times and was a genius stroke of both engineering and marketing on the part of Winchester. Their competitors quickly scrambled to release their own weapons chambered for this enormously popular round. The 44-40 is, among other things, known for killing more deer than any other cartridge.

The Decline of Commercial Ammunition Manufacturing in America

Commercial Ammunition: How Ammo Went From the Military to the Civilian Market

As with other sectors of the manufacturing economy, ammunition and weapons manufacturing went into deep decline, beginning in the late 1960s.

Somewhat ironically, the Springfield Armory was one of the first to go. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced to the public that the plant would close in 1968, because it was in his view “excess to the needs of the federal government,” believing that private arms suppliers would be more efficient.

Many of the outer parts of the Armory were sold off. The core of the campus became property of the City of Springfield and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the site is now a party of the National Park Service, known as Springfield Armory National Historic Site. Several former buildings of the campus are now home to the Springfield Technical Community College. The main building is the home of the Springfield Armory Museum, which houses the Benton Small Arms Collection.

Colt has a slightly different story. It ceased production entirely between 1945 and 1947, with several big retirements occuring at the end of the Second World War. However, the Springfield Armory’s destruction was a boon for Colt, as Secretary McNamara moved a lot of the business from the Armory over to Colt – which finally started seeing its profits fall after the budget cuts at the end of the Cold War.

It all began with a five-year strike. The Colt factory employees were organized by the United Auto Workers, one of the longest-lasting strikes in American history. Replacement workers took the line and there was a noticeable decline in the quality of arms, which negatively impacted the brand’s reputation. By the end of the strike, Colt was sold to a group of investors, the State of Connecticut, and the United Auto Workers. By 1992, the company declared bankruptcy. A boycott, organized in response to CEO Ron Stewart’s statements to the Washington Post that he would favor a federal permit system, didn’t help matters. In 2002, the company spun off its military, defense, and law enforcement wing entirely as Colt Defense. The company reunited in 2013, but declared bankruptcy again in 2015.

Winchester’s decline came in the late 1960s, largely due to a unionized workforce and the increased labor costs that come along with it. A number of hand-tooled weapons were discontinued because the company could not compete with the cast-and-stamped Remington competitors. Much of their product line had been replaced in 1963 and 1964. And for the commercial market, it was no longer seen as a prestige brand, but rather another company selling discount firearms for the mass market. Winchesters made after 1964 continue to be less valuable and less sought after than their earlier counterparts.

A labor dispute proved to be the beginning of the end for Winchester. The strike took place between 1979 and 1980, and ended with the company being sold to the employees as the U.S. Repeating Arms Company. It went bankrupt in 1989, and is now owned by Belgian firm Fabrique Nationale de Herstal. The New Haven plant closed in 2006. Winchester is now an ammunition brand owned by Olin Corporation. It does not produce its wares in Connecticut.

Smith & Wesson fared the best, perhaps, after being sold to American conglomerate Bangor Punta, who diversified the company’s products to include gun-related products such as holsters, as well as breathalyzers and handcuffs for law enforcement. The War on Drugs served to break the back of the company, as law enforcement agencies adopted GlockSig Sauer and Beretta. Between the years 1982 and 1986, Smith & Wesson profits fell by a whopping 41 percent, with ownership changing twice during the decade. A boycott organized in response to “smart guns” development nearly destroyed the company. Its current marketing is extremely commercial focused, with the main target being customers at big box stores.

Remington was able to weather the storm a little better than its competitors, in no small part because it was acquired by the DuPont Corporationduring the Great Depression. The manufacturing was moved from Connecticut to Arkansas, and from New York to Alabama. Nevertheless, the company took on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and suffered from an increasingly diminished reputation among the commercial market.

The commercial ammunition market is now bigger than it’s ever been. Popular and common rounds can be purchased at just about any big box retailer in a state with a high degree of gun freedom. Smaller mom and pops have a smaller selection, but if what you need is common enough, you can get it there. Online retailers like us cater to virtually every ammunition need, from the common to the incredibly niche and obscure. And whatever the commercial market doesn’t cater to, handloaders and wildcatters can make.

It’s important to note that when reading the history of commercial ammunition manufacture in the United States and abroad, the commercial market takes a definite backseat to the military. Indeed, the downturns in military spending are a key factor in the downturn of American ammunition manufacturing in general. As unfortunate as it is to read, it’s simply the honest truth that the needs of the military shape the needs of the overall ammunition market in the 20th and 21st Century.

When Is An Assault Rifle Not An Assault Rifle?

              The gun industry better come up with a basic narrative to staunch what could be some serious financial problems, assuming that the AWB virus (read: assault weapons ban) begins to spread throughout the globe. Because it just doesn’t work to refer to a gun as a ‘modern sporting rifle’ when the so-called ‘sport’ results in 50 people getting killed. It also doesn’t work to refer to an AR-15 as a ‘tactical’ gun when you can hardly consider a high school, a synagogue  or a mosque to be a war zone.

              This search for a new excuse to continue making profits from the sale of .America’s most popular’ rifle’ was on full display yesterday with a really stupid op-ed in The Washington Examiner. The writerlikened allowing families of Sandy Hook victims who want to sue the gun maker to be just as ‘ridiculous’ as allowing someone to sue a company which manufactures kitchen knives after some ‘crazy person’ takes a knife out of the cupboard and sticks it in someone else’s head.

              Last week I bought a knife from an online seller whose advertisement claimed that for $69.95 I was getting my hands on the best, most versatile and most effective ‘tactical’ knife ever made.  The advertisement made a point of promising that with this knife in my pocket, I could defend myself from any and all threats. There was no mention of whether I could also use this knife to slice a loaf of bread.

Of course I could stick this knife in the same kitchen drawer where I keep the utensils which I use to prepare and eat food. But I can also go down to Wal Mart and buy an entire set of forks, knives and spoons, or a complete set of steak knives (in a nice, wooden knife-holder) for less than $69.95. And I would be the last person to argue that if my loony cousin Arthur escaped from the loony bin, showed up at my house, grabbed one of those steak knives and pushed it into my head, that my wife should be able to sue Wal Mart because they sold me a product that was designed to trim the side of my Porterhouse filet.

This is exactly why the argument against banning assault rifles falls apart. Because an assault rifle is designed to do one thing: deliver massive, military-grade firepower into a public space containing multiple human beings who are targeted by the guy who has the gun. And the fact that nearly everyone who owns such a weapon wouldn’t think of using it to hurt or injure someone else, doesn’t make this type of gun any less dangerous or any safer for civilian sale.

One of the most popular semi-automatic rifles ever manufactured is a gun made by Ruger known as the Mini-14. It fires the same type of ammunition as the AR-15 (.223 or 5.56) and bears a slight resemblance to the old M-1 carbine, which was the 30-caliber version of the storied M-1 Garand. It was designed by Bill Ruger specifically to be a lightweight, sporting gun that could be used to hunt varmints or just have some shooting fun.

When Ruger started shipping this rifle it came and still comes with a 5-shot mag. So here was a gun that looks like a military gun, feels like a military gun and shoots like a military gun except that Bill Ruger didn’t want anyone thinking they were buying a military gun. In fact, Bill Ruger first characterized his company as ‘Arms Makers for Responsible Citizens,’ but the factory now ships what they call a ‘tactical’ Mini-14, complete with hi-cap mags.

Could Ruger refit its Mini-14 with a non-detachable mag that only holds 5 rounds? Of course they could, but the gun wouldn’t sell. And this is the reason why the gun industry has become, to paraphrase Hamlet, hoisted with its own petard. Because they can’t have it both ways. Either we shoot for sport or we shoot to kill. It’s as simple as that.

What’s The Best Way To Regulate Guns?

              Coming up shortly is a debate in the U.S. Senate about a bill which passed through the House extending background checks to all transfers of guns. At the same this issue wends its way through Congress, another approach to reducing gun violence is going through the courts in the form of the lawsuit against Remington brought by some of the parents of victims killed at Sandy Hook.

              These two initiatives represent different methods for making us safe (or at least safer) from a type of behavior which kills and injures more than 125,000 people every year.  This behavior which is referred to as gun violence because it occurs whenever someone picks up a gun, aims it at themselves or someone else and goes – bang!

              I happen to believe that the latter approach is a much more effective method for dealing with this problem. My proof for that statement lies in the fact that the gun-control method embodied in the DeSoto v. Remington case aligns itself with the way in which other countries deal with gun violence, which is the reason why other countries have gun-violence rates far below our own.

              We are the only advanced society which has decided that the most effective way to regulate a consumer product known as a gun is to regulate the behavior of the consumer who owns the gun. Therefore, in order to be a legal gun owner in the United States, you have to prove that you do not fall into a particular behavioral category which prohibits owning or buying guns. These categories are all listed on the 4473 background check form which is filled out when someone buys a gun, but they apply equally as well to owning a gun, no matter how that ownership status came about. The background check bill currently before the Senate basically extends the certification of ‘good’ behavior to any way in which someone gets their hands on a gun. But like the current system, it is still regulating how people behave with a particular consumer product, not how the product is designed or sold.

              The majority opinion in DeSoto v. Remington correctly understood that what is at issue in this case is not the behavior of the shooter per se, but the conscious effort by the manufacturer to advertise the product in a way that would attract consumers who wanted to use this gun to inflict injuries to other human beings. To quote from the decision: “The AR-15 and M16 are highly lethal weapons that are engineered to deliver maximum carnage with extreme efficiency.” Which is hardly how guns designed to be used for ‘sport’ can best be described.

              On the other hand, as long as a gun doesn’t fire in automatic mode, it can be bought and sold by anyone who doesn’t have a behavioral history indicating that the person  buying or owning the gun is at risk for using the weapon in a violent way. Adam Lanza, who shot and killed himself and 27 other kids and adults in Newtown, used his mother’s rifle but if he had waited a few months until he was 21, he could have walked into any gun shop in Connecticut and purchased the same gun himself.

              I’m not saying that extending background checks to secondary sales won’t have an impact on whether or not guns end up in the wrong hands. But as long as we continue to regulate this consumer product by believing that purchase and ownership of products as dangerous as an AR-15 require only meeting minimal standards for lawful behavior, the number of such guns floating around in private hands will continue to increase. And as the number of such guns goes up, the number used to commit violent acts will also go up.

              If a consumer product is dangerous because of the way it’s designed, either you change the design or the product can’t be sold. How do you make an AR-15 safer so that it can’t be used to mow down a classroom filled with kids? You can’t.

Why Do Some People Own Guns? A New ‘Scientific’ Explanation.

              Because I fervently believe that we must try to find some way to eliminate the scourge of gun violence, I tend to be somewhat more accepting of arguments for gun control than for pro-gun arguments made by the ‘other side.’ But every once in a while a narrative floats around Gun-control Nation which is either so dumb, or so arrogant or so both, that I feel compelled to respond with the same degree of hostility and dismissiveness that I usually reserve for the jerks who lecture about the sanctity of their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

One such narrative floating around gun-control land is an article in Scientific American that claims to be based on a ‘growing number of ‘scientific studies’ which explain why white men are stockpiling guns. If these articles represent science, Galileo must be turning in his grave, or in his tower, or wherever he ended up. In fact, these so-called studies are nothing more than junk science designed to appeal to an audience which may be committed to scientific inquiry, but also happens to be an audience that doesn’t know squat about guns.

The scientific approach to understanding gun ownership claims that guns are increasingly found in larger and larger private arsenals owned by white men “who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears.” So says a sociologist who her study based on interviews with a whole, big sample of people who applied for concealed-carry licenses in Texas –  she talked to 20 men. That’s some definitive sample, I must say.

The most disturbing finding from this and other scientific investigations into the minds of guys who are stockpiling weapons is that many of them also harbor strong, racist beliefs and worse, often channel these beliefs into opposition to gun-control laws and support for conservative (read: Republican) politicians and right-wing political ideas.

Then there’s another foray into scientific research by two sociologists at Baylor University who claim to have uncovered a connection between white guys who use gun ownership to feel empowered after losing their jobs. Yet white women and minorities who suffered financial setbacks did not feel demonstrate the same affinity to guns, which obviously meant they had developed “other sources of meaning and coping when facing hard times.” Yea, they probably stuffed themselves with Fritos while sitting in front of the tv. Other sources – my rear end.

Let me break the news gently to all these intrepid researchers who are pushing the boundaries of scientific gun research to new extremes. White men have always owned most of the guns in this country. Gun owners have always been politically conservative and vote the Republican line. Gun owners also tend to be less educated because guns are most frequently found in rural areas where opportunities for higher education still lag behind.

In other words, all of these so-called scientific studies designed to explain why a certain group of people keep acquiring more and more guns, don’t tell us anything new about Gun-nut Nation and worse, completely ignore the way in which gun ownership has dramatically changed over the last several years.

You would think that, if anything, the alignment of the gun industry with the most reactionary and racist President of all time, a President who went out of his way to use the threat of gun violence as a motif for explaining his political success, would motivate all these conservative, GOP-voting, racist gun owners to stock up on even more guns. In fact, exactly the opposite has occurred. Gun sales continue to drift downward, there has yet to be a single month since Sleazy Don was inaugurated where NICS-FBI checks on gun transfers was higher than the same month of the year before. Back in 2015-2016 you couldn’t buy a new AR for less than a thousand bucks. America’s ‘favorite gun’ is now priced at $600 or less.

The Scientific American article isn’t science – it’s fake news. But since when do we need to rely on facts to develop or validate any idea at all?

Why Is The AR-15 Too Dangerous If It’s Just Another Semi-Auto Gun?

              I purchased my first assault rifle in 1977 or 1978. It was made by Colt, was listed in the product catalog as a ‘sporter’ and sold for around four hundred bucks. The only difference between my A-1 sporter and the M-16 that was issued to our troops, was that my gun contained a semi-auto sear which because it was a ‘pre-ban’ gun could easily be swapped out for a full-auto sear.

              This alleged difference between a gun which fires full-auto as opposed to a gun which requires a separate trigger for every shot has been the core argument used by Gun-nut Nation to turn back any legal challenge to what they now refer to as America’s ‘favorite’ gun. And since there’s absolutely no difference between all semi-automatic rifles, if you ban one of them you could ban them all, right?

              For the uninitiated, this is a pretty powerful argument, and the pro-gun noise machine buttresses their narrative by pointing out that not only is the ammunition which loads into the AR less powerful than the ammo used in many semi-auto hunting guns, but that most ‘mass’ shootings occur with handguns, not the AR-style of gun. You can find these arguments in an Amicus Brief filed in the Sandy Hook case by a group known as the Connecticut Citizens’ Defense League – I don’t have to tell you which side they’re on.

              There’s only one little problem with this statement from these learned protectors of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ To be polite, they don’t know what they are talking about. To be a little less polite, they’re full of sh*t. And the reason I’m dispensing with polite is because this group is consciously trying to craft an argument to take advantage of a confusion found in just about every discussion about assault rifles, a confusion which hopefully this column will clear up.

              It has to do with how we define the phrase ‘mass shooting.’ Actually, there is no standard definition. The FBI defines a ‘mass murder’ as the indiscriminate killing of four or more persons in a public space whether a gun is used or not. Other definitions push the idea that a mass killing event may occur either in a public or private space, and still others count the number of bodies, usually but not always four or more, regardless of whether the victims are injured or killed.

              When a group like this Connecticut gun-loving bunch lumps together every multiple shooting with rampages which occurred at Columbine, Aurora, Parkland, Las Vegas or Sandy Hook, they are creating a category that is so vague they can basically say anything they want, regardless of the facts in each individual case.

              Of course most ‘mass’ shootings involve the use of a handgun, if you define a ‘mass’ shooting as any time that multiple victims are hit. Of course the AR ammunition load known as .223 caliber is much less powerful that many hunting rounds, because the round my long-distance hunting rifle takes, the .300 Winchester Magnum, is designed to smack down a muley at 400 yards.

              Talking about my hunting rifle, it’s a Browning BAR, which fires in semi-auto mode just like the AR. But there’s a huge difference between these two semi-auto guns which the Connecticut gun-nut group failed to point out. The magazine capacity of my Browning is 5 rounds and it loads shell by shell from the top. The AR loads from the bottom with magazines that can hold upwards of 30 to 50 rounds. If Adam Lanza had walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a Browning BAR, he maybe would have gotten off 4 or 5 shots. In fact because he used an AR, he banged nearly 100 rounds in 5 minutes or less.

              When someone walks into a school and tries to kill everyone in sight, he has destroyed an entire community, whether that was his motive or not. And the only legal gun which will achieve that result in less time than it takes for a school resource officer to run down the hallway and intervene is an AR-15.

According To The NRA, Sandy Hook Was Just A Frivolous Event.

              It took our NRA friends at Fairfax less than 24 hours to respond to the opinion published by the Connecticut Supreme Court after the Court deliberated Soto v. Bushmaster for more than 15 months. And what the boys from Fairfax said is what is always said by the alt-right when a legal decision goes the other way, namely, that it was the product of an ‘activist’ court; ‘activist’ being a code-word for any judicial opinion they don’t like.

              The reason Gun-nut Nation doesn’t like the decision is because it may start a trend around the country where busybody tree-huggers and other liberal types who hate guns will dig up some consumer-protection statute in their state which can be used to take away from the gun industry its beloved federal protection from torts, a.k.a. the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a.k.a. PLCAA.  This law exempts the gun industry from the kind of lawsuits that have been plaguing the tobacco industry for years, namely, taking responsibility for damages from their product even when the product is sold in a lawful way.

              When PLCAA was passed in 2005, the law contained certain exemptions for state laws that gave consumers a basis for legal redress if the product’s use created an injury or a financial loss. Connecticut has such a law, known as the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practice Act (CUTPA), and it was this law which was used by the Sandy Hook plaintiffs to ague their case. It was also this law that the CT Supreme Court majority held to be applicable while a minority of the justices said it was not. I’ll deal with each in turn but first I have to mention a detail of the case that may prove difficult for some to read.

              On the morning of December 12, 2012 a 20-year old named Adam Lanza woke up, took a bolt-action, single shot rifle and shot his sleeping mother in the head. He then took an AR-15 rifle with multiple, hi-capacity magazines, drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School and within five minutes killed 26 adults and children, then pulled out a pistol and took his own life.

              Adam Lanza didn’t own the AR-15. His mother had purchased the gun a year earlier, and at no time did she state that she had purchased the gun for him. This is the reason that the case could not go forward under the doctrine of negligent entrustment, because the plaintiffs would have been required to prove that the actual purchaser of the product had used it in an unsafe manner, which was obviously not the case.

At the same time, the CT Supreme Court majority held that the case could proceed under CUTPA, because that law “authorizes any person who has suffered an ascertainable financial loss caused by an unfair trade practice to bring an action,” no matter who committed the unfair act. The majority further found that the PLCAA law exempted CUTPA because even though PLCAA exempted only laws which specifically referred to firearm commerce, the CUTPA statute prohibited unfair or deceptive advertising in any kind of commerce, which would supersede the specific limitation found in PLCAA.

              What was the minority opinion which the NRA grasped like a veritable last straw? It was the idea that since PLCCA only covered state laws which contained specific reference to guns, that the CUTPA law couldn’t be used  by the plaintiffs in this case. And if there is any doubt about where the NRA stands on this issue, they applauded the minority dissent because it would protect the gun industry from – ready? – frivolous litigation, obviously a category which includes the Sandy Hook case.

              How many people have to get killed by someone wielding an AR-15 before such an act would’nt be considered frivolous?  Only 17 people were killed at Parkland, so I guess that one was even more frivolous an event than what happened at Sandy Hook. Maybe we should set the bar at 50 dead bodies, maybe 100, maybe more.

What Happened At Sandy Hook.

It took the Connecticut Supreme Court more than fifteen months to issue a ruling in the Sandy Hook case, but when the opinion was announced, it was a doozy. Not only did the Court reverse the Superior Court’s ruling and hold for the plaintiffs against the gun maker whose product was used to kill 26 adult and children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the decision got right to the fundamental issue which the gun industry has been trying to wish out of existence for at least the last twenty years.

When gun makers realized that hunting was going the way of the dial telephone, they came up with a brilliant marketing plan to keep the factories humming, namely, the idea of guns as being essential for self-defense. Now the fact that most Americans never find themselves in a situation where they need protection from a criminal threat isn’t at issue here. What is at issue is that enough consumers believed this malarky to keep the gun industry from sliding into the red.

With the advent of terrorism, non-ending battle engagements in the Near East and a generalize fear that something like 9-11 might happen again, however, the whole notion of armed, self-defense was transmogrified into messaging which blurred the traditional boundary between civilian and military weapons, with the gun industry finding its strongest new market in something called ‘tactical’ guns.

Of course the gun industry also knew, particularly after the Heller decision in 2008, that they couldn’t push this move into military-style armaments too far, because Scalia specifically refused to grant 2nd-Amendment protection to what he referred to as ‘weapons of war.’ So the industry invented the idea that guns like the AR-15 weren’t military weapons; they were ‘modern sporting weapons,’ meaning that the word ‘sporting’ could be applied to any gun which fired in semi-automatic mode.

The CT Supreme Court decision is quite lengthy, primarily because it deals not only with the state laws covering consumer protection (CUTPA and negligent entrustment) but it also explains in detail why the gun industry in this instance cannot use the federal tort immunity law – PLCAA – to shield itself from legitimate damage claims. And on Page 12 of the opinion, the rubber meets the road with the following accurate and very strong text: “The AR-15 and M16 are highly lethal weapons that are engineered to deliver maximum carnage with extreme efficiency. Several features make these rifles especially well suited for combat and enable a shooter to inflict unparalleled carnage. Rapid semiautomatic fire ‘unleashes a torrent of bullets in a matter of seconds.’ The ability to accommodate large capacity magazines allows for prolonged assaults.”

Folks – the CT Supreme Court got it right. The AR-15 wasn’t designed to be a ‘sporting’ gun, unless you want to define ‘sport’ as the ability to kill 26 human beings in 4 minutes or less. And if a shooter can deliver that amount of lethal firepower in such a short period of time, it makes the idea of differentiating between full-auto and semi-automatic modes a stupid and sick joke.

What happened at Sandy Hook is that someone used a product that is too dangerous and too lethal for civilian sale. Because the product was used precisely in the way it was designed to be used – to kill as many human beings as possible in the briefest period of time. In all of this my great regret is that in order to force the gun industry to acknowledge the lethality of this product, beautiful and precious lives had to be lost.

We Don’t Need A National Gun Registry Because The ATF Already Knows Who Owns The Guns.

              Last week three ‘experts’ on gun violence – Morall, Stewart, Webster – unanimously condemned the idea of creating a national gun registry to help control guns. In fact, these same three individuals have also supported comprehensive background checks (CBC), which would eventually create a national gun registry whether these experts know it or not.

              Here’s how. Every firearm in a gun shop is listed in the shop’s Acquisition & Disposition book, known as the A&D. When a gun comes into a shop, the gun dealer makes an entry in the Acquisition side of the A&D book which shows where the gun came from, along with the make, caliber and serial number of the gun. When that gun leaves the shop because it’s been sold, the dealer then fills in the Disposition side of the book, identifying the new owner of that gun. Before the Disposition information is entered, a 4473 FBI-NICS background check form is also filled out, and is linked numerically to the relevant entry in the A&D.

              Why will they know it? The ATF owns every, single collection of 4473 forms and every, single A&D book located in every gun shop in the United States. If H.R. 8 becomes law, then over time the whereabouts of every gun that has been transferred to anyone after the law goes into effect will be known by the ATF

              In the ‘olden’ days, a.k.a. pre-internet days, gun dealers kept their A&D book by hand. Now virtually every dealer maintains his inventory on disc, and the agency encourages dealers to digitalize their data because it makes it easier for the ATF agents to conduct an inspection without having to stand there and read through every page of the A&D. Incidentally, the idea that the ATF has been ‘handcuffed’ since 1998 because they can only do a trace of the initial sale of a gun happens to be a big, fat lie. If someone walks out of a gun shop with a piece and gives or sells it to someone else, obviously the movement of that gun from one pair of hands to another won’t be known. But walk into any gun shop and you’ll discover that upwards of 40% of the inventory consists of used guns.

A gun that was originally sold by that shop may end up being re-sold multiple times by that shop or other gun shops nearby. Every single one of those sales can be traced by the ATF. Why don’t they do it? Because they’re lazy and dumb. The ATF still sends out trace requests to dealers through manual fax. They haven’t heard of emails or online fax?  Oh no, not those guys who are now complaining that taking away regulating tobacco is nothing more than a bunch of bureaucrats trying to protect their turf.

I’m not saying that by creating a virtual network of all gun shops that we would then have a national registry of guns in the strict sense of the word. What we would have is the ability to do a much greater and more effective tracing process which would only become even more effective if CBC at some point became law. Given the average age of the gun-owning population and the continued weakness of sales, every year more gun owners are being subtracted for natural reasons from the gun-owning population than the number of new owners who appear. Which means that all the guns that are in the hands of Gun-nut Nation would also end up requiring a CBC transfer and thus would become data that could be easily accessed by the ATF.

Everyone, including those three experts on last week’s Congressional panel who disavowed a national gun registry know full well that the reason we have much higher levels of gun violence than any other country in the OECD is because the government doesn’t know who owns the guns. I’m suggesting there’s a very simple way to make a huge dent in this knowledge gap, which would only take a modest degree of initiative that the ATF evidently lacks.

The New York Times Discovers A New Bunch Of Gun Nuts.

              Last week The New York Times published a lengthy op-ed by an African-American historian, Tiya Miles, who from her secure academic perch known as Harvard University believes she has discovered  a new breed of gun-owner, namely the gun owner who happens to be Black and holds strong, positive views about gun ownership and also about the NRA. Her discovery appears to have come about when she visited a home in the hoity-toity Boston neighborhood known as Beacon Hill (where Ted Kennedy had an apartment) which had once been a stop on the Underground Railroad and now sports a NRA window decal right next to the front door.

              Professor Miles describes herself as being ‘anti-gun’ and a supporter of ‘strict gun laws.’ But after seeing an NRA logo on a house that is considered a monument to the history of civil rights, she decided to dig deeper into the history as well as the current situation covering Blacks and guns. Her review of how Blacks justified arming themselves both before and after Emancipation is judicious and sound. On the other hand, her understanding of how the present African-American community relates to guns borders on the absurd. Frankly, if Professor Miles had submitted the second half of her op-ed to me as a research paper in a graduate course, she would have received a big, fat ‘F.’

              To begin with, Miles bases most of her knowledge about the current situation on an article published by NPR which is, pardon the pun, shot full of holes. This article, which claims, according to Miles, that Black gun ownership has ‘surged,’ is based wholly on a single interview with Philip Smith, who heads an organization he founded called the National African American Gun Association. The NAAGA’s Facebook page contains a video of the group’s 4th Anniversary meeting this year which appears to have attracted somewhere between 10 and 15 folks. Smith told Professor Miles that his organization has 75 chapters in 30 states, a claim she repeats as if because he said it, then it must be true.

              The op-ed’s vision of a burgeoning Black gun constituency is bolstered by an interview with Sharon Ross, who claims to be involved in a movement known as Afro-survivalism, which appears to be an offshoot of the wacky, how-to-survive-the-end-of-the-world nonsense which Glenn Beck used to promote on his television show by hawking freeze-dried foods and other products that were essential to keeping us safe from whatever Armageddon was about to erupt. Sales of all this crap were particularly brisk after Obama was inaugurated in 2008.

              Actually, if you really are worried about the imminent collapse of Western civilization, you can purchase survival foods on Sharon Ross’s website, along with survival tools, survival medical supplies, survival this and survival that. What I really love is the disclaimer on the website which evidently Professor Miles didn’t bother to read: “Sometimes companies pay me, either in cash or free product, to write about them or their products. However, I only work with companies I can stand behind.” Ross calls herself an Afrovivalist – too bad the Khoi-Hottentot tribe in South Africa didn’t have Sharon around to help them when they were basically wiped out in 1850 after they rebelled against British rule.

              If The New York Times is now publishing op-eds based on such an egregious mix of nonsense, self-promotion and outright lies, then either the newspaper has abandoned any concern for responsible journalism or, as I suspect, they are only guilty of the usual condescendingnoblesse oblige which characterizes mainstream media coverage about Black ownership of guns.

              Every year somewhere around 40,000 or 50,000 African-Americans use a gun to shoot themselves or someone else. How come Professor Miles didn’t bother to interview some of those folks, all of whom would have told her that being Black and being armed was hardly a new state of affairs? Oh, I forgot. When it comes to the so-called surge in Black gun ownership, we’re only interested in legal guns – the others don’t count. Right – they don’t count.

Is America’s Love Affair With Guns Coming To An End?

              I have been connected to the gun business one way or another for more than sixty years, and for the very first time I am seeing something about the business that I have never seen before. What I am talking about is the fact that the latest release of background-check data from the FBI, the numbers for February, confirm that so far the sales slump which followed the inauguration of Sleazebag Trump has continued well past the 2018 election which brought about an abrupt change in gun politics on Capitol Hill.

              The very first thing that the new Democratic majority did (or maybe it was the second thing) after the 116th Congress convened on January 3rd was to pass H.R. 8, calling for universal background checks on the transfer of all guns. This was followed at the end of February with another bill extending the time for the FBI to complete a background check from 3 up to 20 days, Now the fact that neither of those bills will probably get through the Senate, and even if they do, will probably languish unsigned on Sleazy Don’s desk doesn’t alter a new political dynamic that has clearly emerged, namely, that gun control as a viable point of political discussion has once again reared its ugly  head.

              Now you would think that these developments would do for the gun industry what such developments have always done in  the past, which is to say, provoke a mad rush into gun stores to clean off the shelves before the dreaded government comes along and gets rid of all the guns. And despite what the ‘experts’ told a Congressional hearing last week (they weren’t under oath so they couldn’t be accused of lying to Congress), if you implement universal background checks for all gun transfers, sooner or later you wind up with total gun registration. And we all know what happens when the government can identify everyone who owns a gun, right?

              So how come gun sales continue to slide into the toilet, no matter how busy the gun-grabbers seem to be?  At the end of August last year, Smith & Wesson stock was selling for less than $10 a share. It closed at $13.60 the day of the election, it’s now drifting back down to under ten bucks. Before all the votes came in, the market was anticipating the possibility that the political return of the tree-huggers would produce a new surge in buying guns. The market has turned out to be wrong.

              We need to wait another couple of months before proclaiming the great de-coupling of fear and demand as the driver for the purchase and ownership of guns. But if things keep going the way they are currently going, from the perspective of America’s love affair with firearms, a new age may have definitely dawned.  There’s a website out there which sells ammunition delivered direct to your door. Right now they are advertising 500 rounds of the best, 22LR ammo on the market for $16.99.  I remember when you couldn’t find any 22LR ammunition because of the hoarding and over-consumption which occurred during the heady Obama days. The ammo is now so cheap that they can’t even give it away. And nothing is a more accurate barometer of the state of the gun market than the cost of 22LR.

              The one thing we continue to get from various public-opinion surveys is that the percentage of Americans who own guns hasn’t really increased; it’s more likely that the average gun owner now owns more guns. But at some point, even most of the die-hard gun nuts just can’t find the space, or the money, or simply the interest to go out and buy another gun. Remember when every kitchen had something called a Mixmaster? Maybe some day my grandchildren will visit the Smithsonian and walk past an exhibition of ‘vintage’ guns. I can just hear one of them saying, “Didn’t Grandpa used to own those things?”