Who Saved The Gun Industry? The Answer May Surprise.

 

The good news is that you don’t have to pass an IQ test to be a member of Congress. I wrote a column about one of the dumbest members of the House, Rob Bishop, who has introduced a bill that would strip the ATF of its authority to determine whether a gun can be imported into the U.S. based on whether it’s a ‘sporting’ weapon or not. And since the ATF has decided, lies from the gun industry notwithstanding, that AR and AK-style guns aren’t sporting weapons, those kinds of guns manufactured overseas can’t come in.

clinton             As you might imagine, the moment Bishop introduced his bill, Gun-nut Nation immediately began beating the drums to get the bill turned into law. But if Bishop’s an idiot, the NRA isn’t far behind, because if foreign gun makers can begin selling assault rifles and other ‘non-sporting’ guns in the U.S., you can kiss the domestic gun industry goodbye.

Back in 1989, George H. W. Bush issued an order which prohibited the import of Chinese assault-style rifles, in particular the SKS. The ban was temporary but was made permanent and expanded by Bill Clinton in 1993. The expansion of the ban meant that no gun of any design that had a grooved barrel could be sent from China over here.  Shotguns, yes. Rifles and handguns, no.

I owned one of those Chinese handguns. It was made by a Chinese company, Norinco, which employs more than 200,000 people and makes just about everything, including ammunition and small arms. The gun I owned was a copy of the Colt 1911 pistol in 45acp caliber, and when I say ‘copy,’ I don’t mean some cheap piece of junk.  I mean an exact copy, up to and including the traditional, Colt-style checkered grips.

Did the gun function as well as the original Colt?  Yes.  Did the gun sell for 30% less than the Colt? Yes. Can you still find the pre-ban Norinco 1911 floating around on gun auction sites here and there? And the good news is that if you need a part or another barrel, you can always pick it up from Colt.

I don’t think there’s a U.S. President who is hated more by Gun-nut Nation than Clinton because, as opposed to Obama, he actually got some gun-control legislation done. And he’s no arugula-eating elitist, Billy Boy’s just a good ol’ boy right out of a Southern trailer park, so he should have known better and just kept his mouth shut. But his 1994 assault-weapons ban didn’t just mean that gun makers had to change the AR design; it was also the first time that the government told the gun industry what kinds of products they could and couldn’t make. That’s not just regulating an industry – that’s telling an industry what it can and cannot do.

But the truth is that for all of Clinton’s attempts to hurt the gun industry, his ban on Chinese guns has probably done more to help the gun industry than any pro-gun effort being bandied about by the supporters of our current President, even though #45 may be on his way down the tubes. Because if Chinese gun manufacturers entered the U.S. gun market, by now they would be over here in force; building factories, producing ARs and polymer pistols and underselling every current brand.

Back in the 1980’s, another iconic American brand, Harley-Davidson, found itself unable to compete with Japanese bike makers and was only saved by a high tariff that Reagan slapped on imported Japanese bikes.  The company continues to limp along, its stock price climb since 1911 is about 30% less than similar-sized companies tracked by Standard and Poor’s. Trump loves to talk about how this tariff is a great example of protecting American jobs, but as usual he’s lying because the tariff didn’t ultimately help Harley at all. But at least the company’s still in business, which is more than what would have happened to S&W and Ruger if Billy Boy hadn’t stopped those Chinese guns from coming our way.

 

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Should Doctors Treat Gun Violence? A Program At The Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia Shows You How.

I don’t know how Philadelphia came to be known as the City of Brotherly Love, but I can tell you that the name doesn’t apply to certain sections of the city.  I’m thinking, for example, of the neighborhood known as North Philadelphia/West, which is actually walking distance from the Museum of Art steps that Rocky Balboa climbed back in 1976.  And I’m wondering whether a modern-day Rocky could run down 24th Street today without getting mugged, or robbed, or worse. Because the crime numbers, particularly robberies, assaults and homicides, just don’t seem to be possible except they really are.

For the last 30 days, this neighborhood of slightly less than 60,000 residents reported 60 violent crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, assault), along with 188 serious property crimes (auto, burglary, theft.)  If this crime rate continues, and it will probably go up as the weather gets warmer, North Philly-West will be running an annual violent crime rate of 100 per 100,000, with a homicide rate alone of 20 – the national homicide rate is under 4.

And by the way, don’t think for one minute that North Philly-West is all that bad.  In fact, when it comes to violent crime rates, there are 13 Philadelphia neighborhoods that are worse. Fairhill, which is just a hop, skip and jump away from North Philly, may end the year with a homicide rate of 160!  That’s simply not possible.  But you know what?  There were two murders over the last 30 days in this neighborhood of 16,000 people, four homicides already this year. As Bill Clinton said in his 2012 speech re-nominating Barack Obama: “Do the arithmetic.”

So Philadelphia has a murder problem, which means it has a shooting problem, which means it has a problem with kids.  Because I don’t care whether we are talking about North Philly, Chicago Heights, East St. Louis or Timbuctoo, when it comes to violence, this problem first shows up in kids, particularly early-teen boys.  By the ages of 12-13 they have guns, by the ages of 15-16, they are using them in the streets, by the ages of 20-21 they are on their way to either going to jail for homicide or going to the morgue.

Which means that effective interventions have to involve behavior modification and getting rid of the guns.  Now let me stop right here and say that I’m not interested in any discussion about 2nd Amendment crap, okay?  Enough is enough with all this nonsense about how any attempt to regulate guns deprives law-abiding Americans of their God-given rights to defend themselves or whatever else God allegedly gives them the right to do. We figured out how to prevent the spread of Ebola, it shouldn’t take rocket science to figure out how to stop the spread of violence committed with guns.

And one place it is being figured out is at CHOP, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a remarkable medical facility that has been pioneering pediatric medicine since its founding in 1855.  In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the hospital developed a program specifically aimed at curbing gun violence among pre-adults in an effort to reduce what had become nearly 1,000 juvenile shooting victims every year.  The program, called Violence Prevention Initiative (VIP), has screened more than 108,000 juveniles who come into the ER with symptoms and histories that might make them at risk for violence.  A small number of these kids are then closely monitored and kids also receive anti-violence lessons in school.

And here’s something to bear in mind.  Asking teenagers about reasons why they are violent often involves discussions about very personal things.  And many young people are reluctant or resistant to have such discussions with cops, or teachers, or even their friends. But the one place that everyone feels secure enough to say anything they want is behind a closed door sitting across from that kindly man or woman who wears a white coat. Which is why doctors always need to be involved in dealing with the violence caused by guns.

America Goes To War And Takes Its Guns

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.