Could Gun Control Be The Defining Campaign Issue In 2016? Don’t Bet Against It.

I can see it now.  The tumultuous last night of the 2016 Republican Convention.  The newly-nominated Presidential candidate strides up to the podium flanked by family members and whomever is going to be the VP.  Then he bends down, can’t be seen for a second stands back up and  raises an AR over his head.

You think it can’t happen?  You think that gun control couldn’t be the defining issue of the next Presidential campaign?  I beg to differ with you and frankly, I even wish this little fantasy would come true.  Why?  Because if the election does turn on the gun issue, the folks who agree with the New York Times about banning assault rifles might just win.

heston              Before explaining, I have to mention the decision by the SCOTUS that denied certiorari to the appeal of the 7th Circuit’s decision that upheld the assault weapons ban in the town of Highland Park, Illinois.  The ban was passed after Sandy Hook, as were similar bans enacted (and upheld) in Connecticut and New York.  What was interesting about the denial of certiorari in the Highland Park case was the margin was 7 to 2; in other words, when it comes to protecting the 2nd Amendment rights of assault-rifle owners, as of now the usual 5-4 conservative majority that ruled in favor of Heller in 2008 has collapsed.

Given what just happened in San Bernardino, this decision should come as no great surprise.  And luckily for all the Republican candidates, the news that the slaughter did constitute a real, ISIS-inspired terrorist attack, gave them all some way of responding without having to spend much time or verbiage on what has become the standard, red-meat rhetoric about the virtues of an armed citizenry, the dangers of gun-free zones, and all that other crap.  This time around, defending the gun industry was left to Jerry Falwell, Jr., whose father, you may recall, blamed gays and lesbians for the World Trade Center attacks.

But let’s get back to which party would be helped and which would be hurt if an assault weapons ban was the driving campaign issue in 2016.  And make no mistake about it, ISIS or no ISIS, there’s every good chance that between now and next November, at least one idiot will bring out his Bushmaster or his DPMS and try to even some real and/or imagined score. And I’ll take the short odds right now that the Republicans will make “defending the 2nd Amendment” the Number One plank in the GOP Platform next year, which means that the Democrats will have no choice but to call for some kind of ‘sensible gun control,’ which could mean a ban on black guns.

Here’s the bottom line on next year from a gun point of view.  If Hillary gives up Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota and Florida but keeps the other states that voted blue in 2012 she still wins.  Doesn’t win by much, but she wins.  With the exception of Colorado, the others are all solid, gun-rich states.  The bad news is that if she gives up those states, she has to keep states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio in the Democratic column, which are also states with lots of voters who own guns.  But ‘lots’ and 50% plus 1 is not the same thing.  And it was the Democratic turnout in large, metropolitan areas in these states in 2012 which kept them blue.  And most of those voters could care less about the 2nd Amendment or about guns.

The Democrats used to keep themselves below the radar screen on gun control as a campaign issue because the NRA took Gore to the showers in his defeat by George Bush.  But 2016 isn’t 2000, and the country may not buy one more Sandy Hook.  I don’t want any election to turn on the loss of human life, but put an AR in the wrong hands and it could work out that way, like it or not.

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A Court Decision That Uses The Gun Industry’s Own Fiction Against It.

Right after the Sandy Hook massacre, both New York and Connecticut passed laws that tightened up restrictions on owning ‘black’ guns, a.k.a., the military-style AR rifles like the type Adam Lanza used to kill 26 adults and young kids.  The laws basically toughened the earlier assault weapons bans, provoking immediate outcries from the pro-gun gang who challenged the laws based on their inalienable 2nd-Amendment rights.  After all, the 2008 Heller decision protected private ownership of all guns that are “in common use,” and what could be more common than AR rifles of which probably more than four million have been manufactured over the last twenty years?

bushmaster logo2                The gun industry began promoting black guns in the 1990s when they realized that hunting and traditional sporting use of guns was dying out.  This promotion took two forms: on the one hand creating the fiction that black guns, like all guns protected us from crime; on the other hand creating the equally beguiling fiction that military-style weapons were no different from other, traditional rifles since they could only be fired in semi-automatic mode.

The industry went so far as to create an entirely new shooting tradition, replacing the phrase

‘assault rifle’ with the nomenclature ‘modern sporting rifle’ so as to pretend that an AR-15 is nothing other than the same, old hunting gun that sportsmen have for generations been taking out to the woods.  And for those who like to imagine themselves mowing down ISIS or Al Queda in the streets and alleys of Philadelphia or New York, the guns being sold by Bushmaster, Colt, Stag and other black-gun manufacturers are referred to as ‘tactical’ weapons, which everyone knows is simply an assault rifle with a different name.

Both the CT and NY laws were challenged and upheld in District Court; now the Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, has upheld both laws again.  What is interesting about this decision, indeed remarkable, is the fact that it is based not just on the government’s authority to regulate guns that are in “common use,” but to regulate these particular types of weapons based on their definition as created and promoted by the gun industry itself!  The Circuit Court accepted the notion that black guns are just another type of sporting rifle, and it was the acknowledgement that black guns are no different from other types of sporting guns that ultimately legitimized the assault-rifle bans in Connecticut and New York.

Plaintiffs in this case argued that there were more than four million AR-15 rifles owned by civilians and that these guns, like other civilian weapons, could only be fired in semi-automatic mode.  As the Court said, “This much is clear: Americans own millions of the firearms that the challenged legislation prohibits.” Further, the Court also accepted the notion that many Americans keep an AR-15 in their home for self-defense.  Given those circumstances, how could the Circuit Court decide that prohibiting civilian ownership of such weapons was not a violation of 2nd-Amendment rights?  Because what the Court did was take the gun industry’s own fiction about these guns and stand it on its head.

The industry’s marketing of black guns as ‘sporting’ rifles is based on one thing and one thing only; namely, these weapons can only be shot in semi-auto mode.  Never mind that you can deliver up to 60 rounds of ammunition in thirty seconds or less; never mind that the .223 round has a lethality specifically designed to kill or injure human targets; never mind that many military and law enforcement units also deploy the semi-auto gun.  That residents in New York and Connecticut can own all kinds of semi-automatic rifles which do not contain certain military-style features means that the ban on AR-style rifles is not a prohibition of semi-automatic weapons at all.

As a noted Supreme Court justice once said, “History also has its claims.” And one of those claims is that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t give the gun industry the right to invent a tall tale to justify how it tries to sell guns.

 

 

What Would We Do If Ben Carson Wasn’t Protecting Our 2nd Amendment Rights?

Uh-oh, the gun industry just suffered a minor jolt that could become a knockout punch because a Federal judge has decided that the suit against Bushmaster brought by the parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook must be heard in a state, as opposed to a federal court.  What this means is that the manufacturer, Bushmaster, will have to prove that their gun was not too dangerous to sell to the public, notwithstanding the fact that Adam Lanza was able to kill 20 kids and 6 adults in slightly more than five minutes’ time.

We don’t yet know which weapons were used to kill nine people at Umpqua Community College on October 1, but we do know that one of the guns carried into the school by Christopher Harper-Mercer was an assault rifle. The fact that the Connecticut Bushmaster suit was revived the day before another school slaughter took place is a horrifying coincidence that, if nothing else, tells us two things: 1) these mass shootings are become so frequent as to be almost routine; 2) the shooter’s access to an AR-15 in both incidents simply can’t be overlooked or ignored.

carson                I’m hoping that if the Bushmaster case is argued in open court that Ben Carson will decide to weigh in on the side of the gun. His recent rise in the polls has coincided with a shameless effort to grab every single pro-gun vote, even if it means saying things that physicians should never say.  Here’s a sample that was posted on his Facebook page although now it’s been taken down: “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.”  Does this jerk have any idea how stupid, pandering and medically-unethical such a comment can be?  Does he have any idea how reprehensible it is for a physician to compare the effects of any injury to a legal state of affairs?

Ben – you’re a creep. Nobody’s taking anybody’s rights away. What is going to happen when the Bushmaster suit is re-opened in state court, is that the whole issue of gun violence is finally going to be discussed by people who will be under oath and won’t be able to pretend that a marketing slogan can be used to obscure or fudge the truth.  Because here’s the truth about the gun that Adam Lanza and probably Chris Mercer used when they opened fire in classrooms on both coasts. They didn’t use a ‘modern, sporting rifle,’ if by ‘sporting’ the gun industry tries to pretend that it’s no different than the old Remington 700 or Winchester 64 that I lug into the woods. It’s a military gun, pure and simple. it’s used by military and para-military forces worldwide, and just because some of the military guns can be set on full-auto doesn’t alter the fact that many armed forces units fire it in semi-auto mode as well.

But the argument about whether a semi-automatic weapon is just as lethal as a full-auto gun misses the whole point.  And to understand the degree to which gun jerks like Carson will go to drag the argument away from the reality-lethality, here’s what he said today on Fox: “Guns don’t kill people. We need to figure out who is the dangerous person so we can intervene.”  Okay Ben, how do you propose we ‘figure out’ the identity all those dangerous persons?  Should we administer a Rorschach test to every gun buyer after they fill out a 4473? Or maybe you would prefer we use the Minnesota Multiphasic exam.

I don’t think there’s much chance that Ben Carson’s going to be the tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come January 20, 2017.  But I’d give anything for him to represent the gun industry when the case against Bushmaster comes into court.  I can’t wait to hear him tell the parents of the kids gunned down at Sandy Hook that those lethal wounds weren’t as important as our 2nd Amendment rights. I just can’t wait.

Do More Guns Equal Less Crime? Not Any More.

If I had a nickel for every time the NRA reminds us that gun violence is down while gun ownership is up, I wouldn’t have to work for a living.  Not that writing is such hard work, mind you, but my previous comment still stands.  And the latest ‘more guns = less crimes’ was just posted by the NRA, which linked to a comment by Charles Cooke in National Review, who compares current crime data to the numbers from 1993 and concludes that “national rates of gun violence are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s,” although he admits that the rate has “declined less dramatically since 2000.” The source cited by Cooke shows that 94% of the decline from 1993 occurred by 2000 and he refers to a 6% drop over the last 14 years as “less dramatic?”

This celebration of the drop in gun homicides coincident with the increase in gun sales has been spun again and again by the NRA and its helpmate, the NSSF.  And while nobody has ever been able to determine whether there’s any causal relationship between gun purchases and crime rates, the coincidence of the latter going down while the former continues to go up is a major argument in the pro-gun playbook for promoting gun rights.

conference program pic                There’s only one little problem, however.  We won’t know for sure until early next year, but preliminary data appears to indicate that the two-decade drop in gun homicides has come to an end.  The best numbers I can find do not come from the FBI, but from the CDC.  And the reason why CDC numbers are more reliable is they are based on comprehensive state public health data which is based on coroner’s reports, whereas FBI numbers are based on local law enforcement agency data which is notoriously incomplete and, in fact, is not required to be reported at all.

The CDC data clearly indicates that the raw number of gun homicides stopped dropping by 2000, and the gun homicide rate has dropped minimally since 2000 as well.  In 1993 gun homicides and rates were 18,253 and 6.75; in 1999 they were 10,828 and 3.83; in 2013 they were 11,208 and 3.55. Cooke’s statement that post-2000 gun violence has declined “less dramatically” is, to be polite, not consistent with the facts.  And further, it should be noted that gun homicides stopped dropping exactly at the time when gun sales started rising; i.e., since 2009.  Annual gun sales, as estimated by NICS background checks, have nearly doubled under Obama; gun homicides have remained stable or moved slightly up.  So much for the nonsense about how guns and/or concealed weapons permits protect us from violent crime.

The news may get worse for 2015.  The best real-time data I can find is captured by the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun violence through a combination of agency and media reports.  This methodology has severe limitations, if only because media reports on gun violence by definition are woefully incomplete, and agency reporting is never done on a real-time basis.  Which means that the 8,616 gun deaths counted by GVA so far this year must be an understatement, but it would still work out to nearly 13,000 gun deaths this year.  And this increase is borne out by data from specific cities like Chicago, whose gun homicide rate is up over last year, ditto New York, ditto Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit.

It will be interesting to watch pro-gun zealots spin the news about how guns protect us from crime when gun sales continue to soar but so does violent crime.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll decide  that all those armed citizens walking around need to spend more time outside their homes making sure the streets are safe.  Or maybe everyone should carry both a Glock and  Bushmaster in plain sight. There’s really no limit to the fantasies you can concoct when the entire argument about how guns protect us from crime is based on facts that don’t exist.  No limit at all.

 

 

 

 

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

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.

 

Want To Support The 2nd Amendment? Visit The NRA Tactical Store

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s, there was very little talk about guns that didn’t in some form or another relate to Cowboys, Indians and the Old West.  Actually, the Old West wasn’t really that old, because it was only in 1890 that the Census Department stated that the frontier was now ‘closed.’  But the West was old enough to be featured in Shane, the very first movie I went to see, I never missed an episode of weekly television shows like Gunsmoke starring James Arness, and I chased plenty of make-believe Indians with the Colt Single Action Army plastic revolver strapped around my waist.

The kids growing up today continue to see lots of guns on video and tv, but the context has changed from Westerns to soldiers, with the guns now symbolizing our overseas military adventures in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.  And there doesn’t seem to be a single gun maker who doesn’t try in some way to tie his products to the military, and I’m not just talking about the obvious connections between Bushmaster or Colt black guns and the battlefield; take a look at how Glock is pushing its military product line or the soldier-like images behind Smith & Wesson’s online rebate form.

If you really want to see a consumer-products company that’s gone whole hog for the military look, take a gander at the new tactical online store of the NRA.  Wait a minute.  I thought the NRA was a gun-advocacy organization that promoted gun safety, sport shooting and, most of all, the protection of our civil rights (a.k.a  the 2nd Amendment which the NRA claims to be the most important civil right of all.) Since when did they become involved in promoting, never mind selling tactical gear to guys and gals?

tactical gear                Actually, from as long as I can remember, the NRA always sold products that promoted its own brand, like books on shooting and training, decals for the back of the truck or the side window of the car, and caps, shirts and other garments that proclaimed one’s support of gun rights, freedom and the American way.  There’s nothing wrong with any organization securing its financial base by selling items that both increases the bottom line as well as getting the logo and the message out in front of the public eye.  But what I find interesting about the new tactical product line is that for the first time, as far as I can remember, the organization is selling products that are actual accessories for guns.  It’s one thing for an organization to sell a shirt embossed with a logo which can be worn at a shooting range but can also be worn anywhere else.  It’s another thing to sell hi-cap magazines for AR-15s, or universal gun magazine reloaders, or instant concealment kits which can, according to the advertising, convert  “ordinary” packs and bags into “extraordinary” gun concealment systems.

The NRA isn’t selling these products because they are trying to start a new trend.  The fact is that promoting guns and gun gear has become part-and-parcel of the general militarization of our culture since the horrific events of September 11, 2001. After all, if we are going to let the local cops ride around in armored personnel carriers and carry bayonets on their AR-15s, why should we be shocked when the NRA sells tactical-style boots for only $129.95?

The great irony in the NRA’s attempt to make common cause with the military is the whole point of the 2nd Amendment was to give citizens the right to defend themselves with guns because liberties might be threatened by a central government that had a monopoly on armed force.  Of course the Framers couldn’t imagine a central government run by a liberal who also happens to be Black. For that matter, I can’t imagine that any of the stalwart defenders of our civil rights who happen to be selling goods in the NRA tactical store know or even care what the 2nd Amendment really means.

 

 

Can A Church Tell Walmart What Kinds Of Guns To Sell? This Church Thinks It Can.

Sooner or later it figures that someone would begin to follow the path blazed by Shannon Watts and her ladies and begin to view retail outlets not just as places where some good PR could be generated by demonstrating against guns, but as financial institutions whose balance sheets might make them targets for shareholder concerns.  And now one of America’s most storied institutions, New York’s Trinity Church, has decided to voice its concern about gun violence by asking Walmart, whose shares it happens to own , to stop selling the assault-style rifles that were used by James Holmes in Aurora and Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook.

The Church, which sits on Lower Broadway across the street from where Wall Street begins, is asking the company to include a proxy in this year’s shareholder meeting that would require the company’s Board to oversee the sale of “products that especially endanger public safety and well-being, risk impairing the company’s reputation, or offend the family and community values integral to the company’s brand.”  Walmart got the SEC to issue an order preventing the proposal from going before the shareholders in 2014, hence Trinity’s decision to take the matter to federal court.  In November, the U.S. District Court decided in favor of Trinity which provoked an appeal by Walmart based on the idea that the Board should not be in a position to decid day-to-day operations of the stores. Now the case is headed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, probably to be heard in early March.

walmart                This case rests partially on deciding whether the owners of a public company can decide how the company should be run, but it also rests on the notion that Walmart is selling a product that, because it “endangers public safety,” should not be sold at all.  This is very similar to the idea behind the lawsuit against Bushmaster filed by the parents of some of the victims at Sandy Hook, namely, that Bushmaster should be held liable for the damages caused by a type of gun which, because of its lethality, that should not be put into civilian hands.

Walmart’s response to Trinity was disingenuous at best.  The company, through a spokesman named Randy Hargrove, cited its “long standing commitment” to standards that far exceed the law (I never met a company whose commitments to anything weren’t long-standing), and to prove its commitment to safety Mr. Hargrove said that neither high capacity magazines nor guns were sold on Walmart.com.  It turns out that online sales account for less than 3% of Walmart’s total revenues, so citing company rules that govern gun sales on the internet could hardly be construed as proof of a commitment to anything at all.

The attempt by Trinity Church to push Walmart into discontinuing the sale of black guns shouldn’t be confused with an effort by a coalition of advocacy groups to persuade investors to divest themselves of holdings in Cerberus Capital, which owns the company (Freedom Group) that owns Bushmster Arms.  To the extent that this campaign has frustrated the attempt by Cerberus to unload Freedom Arms, the firm has certainly not seen its position in the private equity market greatly diminished by the determination of advocates to force the company to stop selling guns.

On the other hand, what is really at stake in the Trinity case, whether the Church realizes this or not, is a fundamental question that strikes at the rationale for the existence of the entire gun industry itself.  Ever since gun makers began to realize that hunting and traditional sports were declining and might eventually disappear, the gun industry has promoted the idea that guns are intrinsically good because they protect us from harm.  What Trinity is saying is that certain kinds of guns, and perhaps all guns, endanger rather than protect us, and therefore should not be sold.  If the Court of Appeals sides with Trinity and black guns disappear from store shelves, what prevents Mike Bloomberg from loading up on Walmart stock and demanding a seat on the Board?

 

 

Between Bushmaster And Murthy It Wasn’t Such A Great Week.

It hasn’t been such a great week for the gun business.  First and most important, gun sales are really in the tank and don’t show any signs of improving. Ruger stock, which hit an all-time high of $85 a share back in January, closed yesterday at under $35. Smith & Wesson, which was at $17 in June, is now selling for around $9.  Nobody expected these companies to maintain the sales numbers they posted over the last several years when everyone believed that a new gun bill would somehow squeak through in DC.  But nobody also thought that the industry would bottom out so deep and so fast.  I walked into a gun shop on the North Shore this past weekend and walked out with a Colt H-Bar AR-15 for a little over seven hundred bucks.  It was used but mint and six months ago the same gun would have fetched at least a grand.

Talking about black guns, the long-rumoured lawsuit by parents of children shot by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook was filed just before the deadline that would have made such wrongful-death claims null and void.  The suit goes after Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the XL-15 that Lanza evidently used with terrible results the day he walked into the school.  The good news for the plaintiffs is that Bushmaster is owned by a private investment group, Cerberus, which has some really deep pockets.  The bad news is that the suit has to somehow get around the 2005 law which immunized gun makers from most claims of negligence or product liability and stymied other victims of mass shootings, such as the Aurora Theater massacre, from seeking damages from the gun maker even though suits against the theater and the seller of the ammunition used by James Holmes have gone forward.

      Vivek Murthy, M.D.

Vivek Murthy, M.D.

What’s different about the Bushmaster suit, however, is that it takes issue with one of the most cherished missives in the gun industry, namely, the idea that the AR-15 is a perfectly-acceptable weapon for civilians because, as opposed to its military likeness, the M-16, it fires only one shot every time the trigger is pulled, whereas the M-16 is a machine gun that fires a massive amount of ordnance and therefore is unsuited and illegal for civilian use.  The moment the lawsuit was filed, various gun experts began pushing the semi-auto versus the full-auto story to explain why the legal argument wouldn’t work.  The only problem with the alleged difference between the M-16 and the AR-15 is that it’s simply not true.  Most of the M-16 rifles currently carried by U.S. troops in Iraq and elsewhere are semi-auto guns (a small number can also shoot 3-shot bursts) because the military long ago discovered that automatic fire was not only inaccurate and a waste of ammunition, but also would heat up the barrel to unacceptable temperatures leading to battlefield failures of the gun. Bushmaster touts the sale of its rifles to the U.S. military on its website – the gun purchased by Nancy Lanza was one and the same thing.

The other piece of bad news for the industry was the confirmation of Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General, an appointment that was contested loudly and continuously by the NRA and its most ardent Senate supporters, in particular Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. These two guys started taking pot-shots at Murthy because they saw it as a quick and easy way to begin building support among the conservative, Republican base as a possible step towards a White House bid in 2016.  The NRA has been trying to push physicians away from any discussion about guns because virtually every medical society has for years confirmed the bizarre idea that maybe, just maybe guns are a threat to health.  Now the fact that more Americans have died from gun violence in the last ten years than died during World War II doesn’t mean that guns are necessarily harmful, does it?  If you want to agree with the NRA on that one, you probably also believe that last week didn’t hurt the gun industry at all.

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For sale on Amazon.

America’s Oldest Gun Manufacturer May Be Ready To Quit

Last week the Colt Firearms Company came within an inch of defaulting on its major credit line, which might have meant the demise of America’s oldest, continually-operating industrial enterprise. This isn’t the first time that the most iconic name in small arms has faced financial Armageddon.  As recently as 2003, the company reorganized itself in an effort to stabilize production of civilian and military small arms, then tried an IPO in 2005 which was withdrawn when the investment market greeted the plan with no money and a big yawn.

Financial problems started plaguing the Hartford-based gun maker within a few decades following its founding in 1835.  The company, like most gun manufacturers, experienced substantial expansion during the Civil War, but a fire that destroyed much of the factory in 1864, coincided with a drop in government contracts that did not reverse itself until the Army adopted the “Peacemaker” revolver in 1873, placed an order for 8,000 units which probably kept the company from oblivion.  Once the Single Action Army revolver, as it was known, became an official military sidearm, it quickly caught on with law enforcement units and civilians, a pattern that Colt would repeat with John Browning’s greatest gun design, the 1911 pistol chambered in the venerable 45ACP.

colt peacemaker                Between 1911 and 1945, Colt delivered more than 3 million pistols to the Army, shipped several million more to customers overseas and used the gun to promote all its pistol and revolver products to civilians at home. The Colt logo, known as the “rampant Colt,” became a fixture throughout the gun industry and beyond; the company name and logo may have been the most identifiable consumer brand not only in the United States but overseas.  The good news about the 1911 pistol was that it functioned equally well whether it was chambered for 45 or 9mm, the latter much more popular in Europe than over here, as well as a hybrid caliber known as the 38 Super which was favored by military and law enforcement units in countries south of the Rio Grande.

While Smith & Wesson took much of the domestic law enforcement market away after World War II with its K-frame revolvers (the chief difference being that the S&W had less moving internal parts, hence, easier to repair and maintain), Colt made up for much of this deficit in the 1960s when it took over Gene Stoner’s rifle design and began producing the M-16.  The rifle remained a Colt product until the late 1980’s, when production stoppages and quality issues at the factory forced the government to give the contract to the Belgian arms maker FN.  And while Colt continues to manufacture variants of this rifle for armed forces here and abroad, there are at least ten other companies that have produced some portion of the 8 million M-16s that are still floating around the globe.  Meanwhile, on the civilian side, the semi-auto version of the gun, known as the AR-15, has long ago become the staple of various manufacturing companies like Bushmaster and Panther Arms, both of whom have outsold Colt in volume of sporting sales.

What really sunk the company to a secondary rank among American gun makers was the five-year UAW strike at the Hartford facility which resulted in handgun sales slowing to a trickle and, frankly, a majority of those guns being considered poorly made.  But worse, the disappearance of Colt from the handgun market came precisely at the time when hi-cap, European pistols like Beretta, Sig and Glock started to take over the American law enforcement market and thence into civilian hands.

When I was a kid, every boy owned a Tom Mix or Roy Rogers revolver ; my grandson has his own I-Phone but couldn’t care less about a name like Colt.  In the consumer market it’s what’s new that counts.  Guns are an old technology. Could the Colt situation presage the future of the gun industry as a whole?