If there’s one thing that makes guns different from every other consumer product, it’s that the damn things just don’t wear out. And this lack of product obsolescence, planned or otherwise, impacts every aspect of the gun business and should alert my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community to be careful when they promote policies and strategies that have worked to lessen risk and injury from other consumer products (ex. automobiles) but won’t necessarily work when it comes to guns.
I own a Colt 1911 pistol that was manufactured in 1919. The finish is perfect and it works flawlessly. I even have about 10 rounds of 45acp ammunition made in 1920 by the Remington factory in Bridgeport, CT in the original 20-round box which was shipped with the gun as a promotion and the ammo still works too. In other words, I am still using a consumer product that was made and first sold almost one whole century ago!
How many cell phones have I owned in the past 15 years? Probably at least ten. How many new cars have I purchased in the past 15 years? I’m on my fifth one. How many bags of potato chips have I consumed in the last month? I’d rather not say. The point is that virtually everything we purchase either wears out or is consumed and therefore has to be replaced. And the companies which make those cell phones, those t-shirts, those crummy I-Pads and everything else know that if they can get me to buy their product for the first time, they are usually looking at repeat business for the remainder of my life.
Not true with guns. Last year our friends at Harvard and Northeastern made the astounding discovery that roughly 3% of all Americans owned roughly half of the privately-owned guns. Which works out to an average of 17 guns apiece. But if you buy your first gun in your 20’s and now you’re in your mid-50’s, which happens to be the average age of gun owners today, this works out to a gun purchase every other year. Which is basically the same rate at which I have purchased a laptop – one every other year. But the laptops are junk, so is my droid, so is my GPS. They all break or simply one day don’t work. Guns don’t break.
About five miles from my office is the rubble of a factory, Westinghouse New England, which was built in 1915 and produced nearly 1 million Moisin-Nagant rifles that were supposed to be shipped to Russia during World War I. Then something known as the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, the whole deal went south, and the U.S. government which had paid for the tooling was stuck with the bill. The Feds ended up selling off the rifles as surplus guns to civilians for three bucks apiece. I happen to own one of those guns and it shoots just fine. The factory is rubble. See the pic above. Get it?
Gun makers have never figured out how to overcome the fact that unless your product needs to be replaced on a regular basis, sooner or later you’ll go broke. The good news is that every other Presidential administration since FDR has tried in one way or another to get rid of guns. And the political effort to regulate (read: prohibit) gun ownership has become, for the gun business, what product obsolescence is for everything else that we own.
I don’t blame the gun industry for inventing the idea that a gun can protect its owner from crime. Because at least criminal behavior is a constant factor which never seems to go away. So if gun makers can make people believe they should buy this particular product because it’s an effective way to deal with crime, at least there’s a chance that sales won’t collapse even if the current Administration has no plans to take away the guns.