Who Wins When Harvard University Goes Up Against Ruger? Neither One.

You know the gun business is a serious business when someone writes about it in the Harvard Business Review.  And thanks to my friend Shaun Dakin, I just finished reading an article about the gun business published in the latest issue of HBR whose author, Robert Dolan, is a member of the Harvard Business School faculty.

Actually, the article is basically an update of a business school case study that Dolan published in 2013 which, although Dolan claims makes him someone who has studied the gun industry “in depth from a management perspective,” is actually an analysis of one company, Ruger, whose CEO, Michael Fifer, happens to hold a Harvard MBA degree.

Dolan’s article argues that gun companies should redefine their business practices to go beyond concerns for the bottom line and move from ‘management’ to ‘leadership’ by taking a more active role in making sure that company products are only used in safe and lawful ways.  Rather than just complying with gun laws, Ruger and other companies should take some of their profits and bring ’smart guns’ to market, expand programs that curtail straw sales and more closely monitor gun dealers who let their guns get into the ‘wrong hands.’

Even though Dolan attempts to validate his approach by invoking the legendary Peter Drucker (as if you can publish a Harvard case study without mentioning Drucker) there’s little here that can’t be found in many other calls for more gun industry responsibility, beginning with President Obama and moving on down. The Clinton Administration tried to get the gun industry to adopt all those ideas in 1998, and what they got for their efforts was a boycott of Smith & Wesson and then a law protecting the industry from class-action torts that was signed by George W. Bush in 2005.

To understand how the gun industry views Dolan’s argument for transitioning from management to leadership, you can find a response just below his comment from none other than Larry Keane, who happens to be the Senior Vice President of the NSSF. Keane begins his response by noting that “there is so much wrong in [Dolan’s] piece that it is hard to know where to begin.”  Actually, Dolan’s case study on Ruger contains more errors than his op-ed (including the extraordinary claims that the value of Ruger stock increased by more than ten times between 2008 and 2013), but Keane wants to make sure that everyone understands the basic idea that either you know the truth about the gun business or you don’t; and if you say anything negative about the gun business, you don’t.

Keane argues that policing the gun industry should be done by the police; i.e., law enforcement agencies like the ATF.  It’s a disingenuous argument at best, a wholesale fabrication at worst.  The Tiahart Amendment that severely curtails the ability of law enforcement to track illegal guns was not, as he claims, based on misrepresentation of gun-trace data by GVP advocates; it was nothing more than a successful effort to hamper government’s effort to regulate the gun industry through stricter enforcement of the distribution chain.

On the other hand, Professor Dolan is engaging in his own brand of wishful thinking by assuming that the gun industry is ready, willing or able to regulate itself.  Detroit didn’t begin installing seatbelts until the Federal Government mandated their use; the money spent by the gun industry to lobby against government regulations is a trifle compared to what the tobacco industry spends to stave off more government rules on cigarette sales.  If Dolan wants to write an interesting case study on the gun business, perhaps he should examine how and why the gun business has kept the regulators under control.

The GVP community rightfully takes umbrage at the degree to which the gun business has insulated itself from government mandates or controls, but the industry is just doing what comes naturally – no business owner wants the government to tell him what to do.

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Gun Nuts Discover The Trace And Guess Who Wins?

It took about three weeks for The Trace to earn its first rave review from the gun-nut community in the form of a rant delivered by Larry Keane, a Senior Vice President at the NSSF.  And it only took Larry less than two sentences to deliver what is always the first and foremost reason why something, anything is a threat to all those nice folks who own guns, namely, the word Bloomberg which works every time.  Come to think of it, I can’t recall any statement by the NSSF over the last several years about alleged threats to gun ownership that hasn’t mentioned the word Bloomberg, unless the statement substituted the word Obama for Bloomberg, although many NSSF rants about threats to gun ownership usually mention both.

Since this online newspaper got some start-up dough from Bloomberg, there’s no question that you can’t trust anything it says.  And gun owners, according to Keane, are wise to the nefarious ways of Bloomberg because they know just how biased and anti-gun he is.  The proof that the pro-gun community is savvy to the Bloomberg anti-gun strategy is the fact that The Trace “has readers outraged over one-sided reporting on issues and reckless disregard for facts.” Which is an interesting statement coming from Keane since nowhere on the Trace website do we find any statement from readers at all.

trace                I guess what Keane is referring to is The Trace Facebook page which, like all Facebook pages, does allow visitors to make statements about content that is posted on the site.  So in the interests of fairness, I thought I would test the NSSF’s claim about the degree to which readers are “outraged” by all this one-sided, anti-gun reportage spewed forth by the Bloomberg cabal on this new site.  I chose as my test of Keane’s assertion a link back to a story about the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s plan to melt down 3,400 guns seized over the past year, a Facebook posting which in the following 15 hours received almost 80 comments from viewers of the page.

Before I share the results of my little survey, I should say that there aren’t many things that piss off gun-nuts more than the destruction of guns.  After all, we know that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  So why get rid of the guns?  I’ll tell you why: because the Los Angeles County Sheriff is caving into pressure from gun-grabbers like Bloomberg who want to get rid of all the guns.  And what better way to get rid of guns than to melt them down? That being the case, if readers are truly “outraged” by the anti-gun bias of The Trace, we should certainly find this outrage expressed in the comments posted on their Facebook page.

So I read all the comments about the gun meltdown and if this story provoked reader “outrage,” all I can say is that I’d love to see my weekly Huffington column generate such an outrageous response.  Here’s an example of the kind of outraged reader comments posted on the site, beginning with the initial comment to which five other readers then made a response:

Comment:  The Los Angeles police department should sell those guns and distribute the proceeds to various crime diversion programs. …

Response #1: You honestly believe that is the solution

Response #2:  NO ! Read the article , the whole idea is to destroy the guns SO THAT they cannot be used against innocent people ever again !!

Response #3: The point is to get guns off the street DA

Response #4: My point exactly.

Response #5: So, selling guns to people who can pass background checks automatically means these guns will be used against innocent people? Basically, gun owners that can pass background checks are “guilty until proven innocent”.

 

Some outrage, right?  And what I have reproduced above is fairly typical of the comments attached to every story posted by The Trace.  The NSSF won’t ever admit that a gun story can be published which would generate thoughtful, intelligent and respectful comments from both sides, because they don’t want the gun debate to be based on informed opinion or facts.  Which is exactly what makes The Trace such a threat to gun-nut promoters like Larry Keane.

 

 

 

 

How Much Does Gun Violence Cost? Mother Jones Has A New Number.

Economists and public health researchers have been trying to figure out the costs of gun violence for more than twenty years, and the latest estimate, just published in Mother Jones, puts the total tab at $229 billion. This isn’t the first time that attempts have been made to estimate gun violence costs; Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig published an entire book on the subject back in 2002, and they put the annual figure at $100 billion – surely the number couldn’t have more than doubled in the past 15 years,  particularly since the number of robberies, assaults and homicides have all declined from the earlier date.  In fact, the lead researcher for the Mother Jones piece, Ted Miller, said in 2010 that gun violence was costing the U.S. $170 billion, which means that somehow total costs have increased by 35% over the last five years.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not playing Monday-morning quarterback and casting aspersions or doubts on the research and analysis presented in Mother Jones.  Anyone who believes that gun violence isn’t a public health issue of major proportions might as well join Wayne-o, Chris Cox, Larry Keane and other professional gun delusionists in promoting the idea that guns don’t represent any risk at all.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a serious discussion among rational-minded folks about the ways in which we understand and frame the debate about guns.  The Mother Jones report is a serious contribution to that discussion and I’m responding to it on those terms.

conference program pic                The report breaks things down between direct and indirect costs, the former reflecting such expenses as medical care, policing, emergency services and penal  charges (courts and incarceration), the latter reflecting what the researchers call “less tangible” costs, such as lost income, quality of life impacts and labor replacement.  I would rather refer to these two categories by the qualitative value of the data, because most of the direct costs can be calculated from governmental budgets covering policing, medical care and penal institutions, whereas the indirect costs are estimates at best, and may or may not be based on any real numbers at all.  The direct costs of America’s annual gun carnage is estimated at less than 4% of the $229 billion total, of which incarceration accounted for 94% of the direct cost total for homicides, but only a fraction of that amount for each aggravated assault.  Miller and his associates claim that incarceration costs $414,000 per homicide; Cook and Ludwig set the cost at $244,000.  Could this number have nearly doubled in 15 years?  The overall gun violence costs appear to have more than doubled during the same period, so why not?

Moving from direct to indirect costs presents other types of data issues which I’m not sure are discussed with the sensitivity and acuity which they deserve.  The biggest one to me is the attempt to calculate the economic value of a human life which is based primarily on estimates of what that person would have earned had they lived out a normal life term.  And even though the report calculates the number to be significantly lower than estimates from various government agencies, any such estimate is based on assumptions about the economy’s long-term performance that may or may not be true. Those of us who watched out 401Ks shrivel in 2007-2008 or got called into the boss’s office at 4 P.M. on a Friday afternoon, know how dangerous it is to attempt to predict any degree of financial or economic performance out beyond the next couple of months.

When it comes to gun violence there’s a moral imperative – thou shalt not kill – which transcends any discussion about numbers even though the gun industry evidently feels that it doesn’t apply to them.  The cautions above should not detract at all from the value of this report which reminds us again that the real cost of gun violence, the cost to our humanity and decency, remains to be solved.