Do We Really Need More Gun-Violence Research?

Later this week I am scheduled to attend a two-day conference at the Academy of Sciences Health and Medicine Division Institute in Washington, D.C. The conference topic is: “Health Systems Intervention to Prevent Firearm Injuries and Death.”  The purpose of the conference is to update recommendations for additional gun research, a task recommended by President Obama after Sandy Hook. Of course this would mean that the CDC research spigot would be turned back on.  Yea, dream on.

smith manual              I’m not going to the meeting because I do not believe we need any more research on gun violence.  What are we going to find out? That there’s some way to point a gun at yourself or someone else, pull the trigger and not suffer an injury or death? Oh, I forgot. We can always do yet another study which assumes that keeping the gun ‘safely stored’ will reduce gun violence.  Except other than a couple of hundred youngsters who are accidentally shot each year by a dumb parent or older (or younger) child, safe storage doesn’t do squat.

You don’t walk around with a gun safely stored. You walk around with a live gun because you believe it will protect you from someone else who has a gun, or from someone else who wants to steal your money, or from someone like the kid in Corpus Christie this past weekend who got into an argument with another family member “over nothing” (according to a witness) then pulled out a banger and – bang! – four people were dead.

The Urban Institute study indicates that one out of three adolescents and young men in certain Chicago neighborhoods either have or plan to walk around their neighborhood with a gun. These neighborhoods experience killing rates twenty or thirty times higher than the national fatal gun-violence rate. How did that happen?

If one more physician tells me that he or she would like to advise patients to avoid guns but, after all, the Constitution gives the patient the ‘right’ to own a gun, I’m going to suggest that said doctor go back and read the Hippocratic Oath which happens not to mention the Constitution at all. If a patient walked into a clinic and admitted to being a smoker, would a physician dare avoid telling the patient that he shouldn’t smoke? Because in case you didn’t know it, smoking is also a Constitutional ‘right.’  It’s Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 – the Commerce Clause.  I can buy as many cigarettes as I want.  In my state I have to be 21 to buy smokes. But I also have to be 21 to buy a handgun.  How come the doctor insists that I shouldn’t exercise one Constitutional ‘right’ but I should just behave in a ‘reasonable’ way when I want to exercise the other Constitutional ‘right?’

Lester Adelson was Cuyahoga County coroner for almost thirty years. He had plenty of experience with gun violence and wrote a remarkable textbook on forensic homicide which should be read by everyone in the gun-control crowd. In 1980, he published what I believe is still the best and most concise opinion-piece on gun violence, and you can download it from my website here. I quote Adelson apropos of what happened in Corpus Christie: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

Next time you buy a gun (ha ha) open the box and you will find an owner’s manual. If you don’t want to buy a gun, you can read one right here.  Notice right on the first page it says in big, bold, red letters: “FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE WARNINGS MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH TO YOU AND OTHERS.”

If gun makers don’t try to hide the fact that their products are dangerous, why do we need more research to learn the same thing?  Since the medical community hasn’t figured this one out I’ll explain it: you reduce gun risk by getting rid of the risk. Gee, that was a tough one.

 

 

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Want To Make A Million In The Gun Business? Start With Two Million.

On July 1, 2016, a stock called American Outdoor Brands (AOBC) hit an all-time high of $30 bucks a share.  In case you didn’t know it, AOBC is actually Smith & Wesson, whose ownership decided to diversify the company into an outdoor sporting conglomerate basically to cover up the fact that all they really make and sell are guns. The company President, Jim Dabney, announced the new name back in December 2016 with this statement: “We believe that American Outdoor Brands Corp. is a name that truly represents our broad and growing array of brands and businesses in the shooting, hunting and rugged outdoor enthusiast markets.”

sw             This strategy replaced an earlier strategy which had S&W marketing all kinds of consumer crap – blankets, clothing, watches, jewelry – that can now be found on eBay for a fraction of what the stuff originally cost. Once the geniuses who run S&W realized that the only thing which consumers would purchase that carried the company’s distinctive name were guns, forget about promoting the brand through other channels, let’s just buy some small companies with other brand names.

Except the problem is that consumer brands that don’t carry a high price-tag usually don’t market products that anyone really wants to buy. Ever hear of a brand called Bog-Pod? How’s about Hooyman or Old Timer?  These are some of the products which the company claims will help it build a “rich, diverse product and brand offering to address new opportunities in the rugged outdoor markets.”  Hey guys, stick with the guns, okay?

Actually, for a few years the boys at 2100 Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield read the handwriting on the wall correctly, marketing a cheap line of AR-15 rifles, which boosted overall revenues significantly and got the company into the expanding tactical rifle market at exactly the right time.  The company first began shipping its ‘black gun’ in 2006, by 2010 they were selling more than 100,000 units each year, the other major assault-rifle manufacturers (Bushmaster, DPMS) were producing about half that number each year.

There’s only one little problem with the success story, however, which is that what goes up in the gun business can also go right back down.  Which is exactly what happened to AR sales by the end of the Obama regime, if only because at a certain point everyone who wanted to own what is euphemistically referred to as a ‘modern sporting rifle’ had one sitting at home.

But gun makers are used to dealing with market saturation because, if nothing else, the things they manufacture don’t wear out.  If you sell someone a droid, for example, chances are that a certain number will have to be replaced within a year or so. Selling someone one droid usually means that the manufacturer will rack up another sale. Not so with guns, which is why companies like S&W knew that at some point sales of their assault rifles would go flat.

But what S&W didn’t know, what nobody in the gun industry could predict, was the firestorm which erupted after the Parkland massacre which was aimed at the whole gun industry, but obviously is a bigger threat to companies which make black guns, of whom S&W happens to be the biggest target of all.  When a global asset manager like Black Rock and a commercial bank like Bank of America announce they want to meet with gun makers to see what the industry’s response will be to what happened in Parkland, we’re not talking about the ‘arm teachers’ nonsense peddled by the White House idiot, we’re talking what counts: bucks.

What we say in the gun business is that if you want to make a million, start with two million. If you bought 50,000 shares of S&W on July 1, 2016 yesterday the joke would have come true.

Which is why S&W stock closed yesterday at under $10, the lowest price since the end of 2014.  If you owned 100,000 shares of S&W  on July 1, 2016 and held those shares today, your investment would have lost  2 million bucks.

Trump May Believe That The 2nd Amendment Protects Gun Ownership, But He Happens To Be Wrong.

It only took about two minutes Wednesday night for the Hillary Clinton – Adolph Trump debate to get to the question of guns. And it was Adolph who raised the issue when he said he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would uphold the 2nd Amendment because it was ‘under siege.’  So Wallace then flipped he question to HRC and asked her to explain her comment that the 2008 Heller decision was ‘wrong,’ to which our candidate gave a fairly sensible and cogent response:

     “You mentioned the Heller decision. And what I was saying that you referenced, Chris, was that I disagreed with the way the court applied the Second Amendment in that case, because what the District of Columbia was trying to do was to protect toddlers from guns and so they wanted people with guns to safely store them. And the court didn’t accept that reasonable regulation, but they’ve accepted many others. So I see no conflict between saving people’s lives and defending the Second Amendment.”

2ALet’s not waste our time with Adolph Trump’s rejoinder because it was an incomprehensible ramble about how he was going to do this and that. The bottom line is he said what he needed to say, namely, that if she won the election, guns would be taken away.  Because to Gun-nut Nation, saying that the 2nd Amendment is ‘under siege’ is just code for saying that private gun ownership won’t be allowed.

Incidentally, I don’t care if anyone reading this column gets offended because I refer to Trump by the first name of a certain Fascist dictator who’s ass we finally kicked in 1945. This new guy has done everything he can to demean the democratic process, to pander to the worst, most violent and extremist elements of the far Right, and his narcissism and arrogance knows no bounds. So screw him, the horse he rode in on and the whole cavalry behind him.  I’m done being polite.

Anyway, as I was saying above.  So what we got from Hillary Wednesday night was a reasoned and sober attempt to balance the constitutionality of private gun ownership against the government’s need and legitimate interest in regulating safe behavior with guns.  But why is it necessary to worry about abiding by the 2nd Amendment?  Whose constitutional ‘rights’ are even threatened if the 2nd Amendment is ‘under siege?’

I bought my first, real gun in 1956 when I was 12 years old.  I was walking around a flea market in the Florida Glades, old boy had a Smith & Wesson blue box on the table with a 38-special banger inside, wanted 50 bucks for the gun which sounded like a good deal to me.  I wasn’t a Florida resident so for some reason that wasn’t explained, give the fifty dollars to ‘nuther ol’ boy standin’ down yonder at the end of the table and he gives me the gun. Things were much simpler in those days.

Between 1956 and 2008 I probably bought and sold 500 personally guns.  Sound like a lot? Hell, it’s less than ten guns a year.  That’s not a lot of buying, selling and trading if you’re a gun nut like me. Know how many of those transactions were protected by the 2nd Amendment?  Not one.  Know how many of those transactions made me legally vulnerable because I didn’t have the blessed 2nd Amendment protecting my back?  Not one. The Supreme Court ruled in 1939 that I did not have any constitutional protection for any of my personally-owned guns, and that ruling remained law of the land until 2008.

The truth is that all this crap about the 2nd Amendment is nothing more than a cynical and nonsensical attempt by pro-gun noisemakers to persuade gun owners like me to fork over our $30 annual dues to the NRA.  And while I’m at it, I can send a few bucks to the Adolph for President campaign. After all, without Adolph running things, maybe all my guns will be taken away.  Like all my guns were taken away before the Court handed down Heller in 2008.

 

Let’s Stop Worrying About The 2nd Amendment And Start Worrying About Ending Gun Violence.

I’m not sure whether it’s Donald Trump or Wayne LaPierre who is more convinced that Hillary is an enemy of the 2nd Amendment, but I get emails from both of them on a daily basis asking for money to keep her from moving into the Oval Office at High Noon on January 20, 2017. And what both of them keep telling me is that if Hillary becomes the 45th President, the first thing she’ll do is appoint a liberal to the Supreme Court, and the first thing the Supreme Court will do is reverse the 2008 Heller decision which will then be the first step in taking away all my guns.

2A           How do we know that Hillary wants to get rid of the 2nd Amendment?  Because the Breitbart website said so on June 5th, and if Breitbart says so, it must be true.  Actually, what she really said is that she favors laws that would extend background checks to private sales and reverse the 2005 statute (PLCAA) that gave the gun industry immunity from liability torts.

Hillary’s gun positions are right on her website, and there’s nothing in her proposals that is any different from what she and other liberals have been saying for years.  In fact, her call for stricter regulation of assault rifles has absolutely nothing to do with the Constitutional guarantee for private gun ownership, since the 2008 decision extended 2nd-Amendment protection to handguns, not rifles, and a later attempt by Heller to have the 2nd Amendment cover private ownership of rifles was turned down flat.

What I find interesting about Gun-nut Nation is they are the first ones to denounce the ‘liberal elite’ for using the judiciary to ‘make’ laws that run contrary to the people’s will.  And the reason they don’t want Hillary to appoint any judges is because she’ll appoint judges who don’t respect the Constitution and are always trying to promote liberal ideology with their decisions rather than going by exactly what the document says. These are the same people, incidentally, who tell you that the 2nd Amendment gives them the ‘right’ to own and carry a gun without any interference from the government at all.  Which means either a) they have never actually read the 2008 Heller decision; or b) they have read it and are too dumb to understand it; or c) they have read it, understand it, and are just lying to make a point. Breitbart fits somewhere between b) and c).

Let me tell you something about the 2nd Amendment and what I am going to say not only applies to Gun-nut Nation noisemakers like Breitbart, but applies to certain liberal, Constitutional scholars as well.  I bought my first, real gun in 1956 when I was twelve years old.  It was a beautiful, 6-inch, Smith & Wesson revolver that I found lying on a table in a tag sale on the edge of the Everglades on Hwy 441 near Boca Raton. Ten minutes after I bought it my Uncle Nathan snatched it out of my hands and sold it to a pawn shop the next day.  But that’s beside the point.

From 1956 until 2008 I probably bought and sold 500 guns (which is only 10 a year) and not a single one of those transactions was protected in any way by any kind of Constitutional guarantee. Nor was a single one of those transactions in any way jeopardized by the lack of a Constitutional guarantee.  Because until 2008, the 2nd Amendment only protected ownership of guns that would be used in what we call the ‘common defense.’ This was the ruling in the 1939 Miller case, and this ruling did not stop me from buying or selling a single gun.

I don’t think that ending gun violence has anything to do, pro or con, with so-called 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ So let’s stop worrying about whether anyone gets offended because we don’t evince a proper reverence towards the sacred, 2nd-Amendment text. Let’s end gun violence, okay?

 

 

What Will Happen If Hillary Abolishes The 2nd Amendment? Nothing Will Happen.

Every time that Schmuck-o Trump-o gets up in front of one of his Ku Klux Klan rallies, sooner or later he promises the crowd that he’ll  ‘protect’ their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ And lately, this seems to be about the only thing he can say without getting into trouble, so he makes sure to say it every time out.  Of course he always gets a response from the crowd because if we know one thing for sure about Hillary, we know that she’s an enemy of the 2nd Amendment and if she becomes Number 45, then 2nd Amendment goes bye-bye.

K38           I bought my first real gun in 1956 when I was 12 years old.  It was a Smith & Wesson 6-inch revolver in one of those blue cardboard boxes and it was sitting on a table in the middle of a big flea market somewhere in the Glades outside of Fort Lauderdale near Highway 441. Old boy wanted fifty for the gun, I had fifty on me, he got the fifty, I got the gun.  Of course thirty minutes later my great-uncle Nat grabbed the gun away from me and probably sold it in a pawn shop the next day.  But it was still and always will be my very first gun.

Between 1956 and 2008, that’s more than fifty years, I probably owned more than 500 different guns.  That may sound like a lot but actually it’s only ten guns a year which is pretty light for a gun nut like me. I also probably sold 450 guns over that same period because, on average, I usually kept around 50 guns at any one time. Always had a couple of Colt 1911s, a Smith 39 and a Smith 52; I was also partial to Walther, particularly the P-38 and never passed up the opportunity to own a Browning Hi-Power, aka the Model P-35.  Those are for starters.

Between 1956 and 2008 I probably bought, sold and traded one thousand guns, and not a single one of those transactions was protected by the United States Constitution at all. Because when I first started fooling around with guns the 2nd Amendment was defined as only protecting guns that could or would be used for military service of one kind or another; this was the gist of the 1939 United States vs. Miller decision which basically said that the 2nd Amendment only protected the ownership of guns that would be used in a militia-type of activity like the National Guard.  And of all the guns I had owned since 1956, not one of them could have been regarded as useful only for military or militia service, not one.

The 2008 District of Columbia vs. Heller decision changed all that.  Because for the very first time the SCOTUS gave Constitutional protection to civilian gun ownership, but also explicitly gave Constitutional protection to a very specific kind of civilian ownership, namely, the ‘right’ to keep a loaded, unlocked handgun in the home. Meanwhile, in the years since I bought and briefly owned that S&W revolver in Florida, virtually every state began issuing licenses to carry a concealed weapon outside the home, and some states even now allow guns to be carried openly in the public space.

I hate to break the news to Schmuck-o and his band of merry followers, but carrying a gun outside your house, concealed or in open view, is not protected by any Constitutional ‘right’ at all.  And when various jurisdictions have been challenged for limiting the carrying of guns outside the home, these challenges (e.g., Peruta vs. San Diego) haven’t gone anywhere at all.

So when Schmuck-o Trump gets up there and says he’s going to ‘protect 2nd-Amendment rights,’ he’s just embellishing a noisy fiction that without the 2nd Amendment, we would all fall prey to gun-grabbers like Hillary who would quickly and easily take away our guns.  It’s not true, it never was true, but since when is truth a defining criteria for what tumbles out of Schmuck-o Trump’s mouth?

A Little Seminar On Gun Lethality: Let’s Start With Handguns.

What follows is a work in progress so please feel free to respond with ideas, reactions, etc.  Last week I published a New York Times op-ed in which I called for the regulation of guns based on their lethality as a more efficient and logical way to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Because otherwise we run into a dead end when someone like the Orlando shooter acquires gunslegally and then uses them for a bad end.

What I am proposing is that that persons who want to own highly-lethal weapons do more than simply pass a background check.  This is not the Canadian or the European approach, which imposes stiff regulations on just about every kind of gun.  Instead, it borrows a page from the ATF which currently approves applications for importing guns based on whether the particular model is judged to be a safe, ‘sporting’ gun or not.

So what I have done is create four different categories of lethality: concealability, caliber, ammunition capacity and flexibility (e.g., how quickly a gun can be reloaded or made ready to fire), with the guns that score highest total being the most lethal and therefore requiring a greater degree of regulation in order to be bought or owned.  Next week I am going to publish a detailed study covering lethality measurements for every kind of gun, but today I thought I would give you a little preview of how a lethality scorecard might actually work.

For this exercise I chose nine different gun models currently manufactured by Smith & Wesson, including two standard revolvers (586, 67,) one very concealable revolver (351PD,) two target pistols (SW22, 41,) two full-size pistols (M&P 40, 1911SC,) and two very small pistols (Shield, BGA360.)

Here are the pictures and lethality scores for each gun.  Remember, the higher the score, the more lethal the gun:
586

Model 586, 357 magnum revolver, 6″ barrel, LETHALITY – 17

67

 

Model 67, 38 special revolver, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 16

351PD

 

Model 351 PD, 357 magnum revolver, 2” barrel,  LETHALITY – 21

SW22

 

Model 22, 22LR caliber, 5” barrel, LETHALITY – 15

41

 

Model 41, 22LR caliber, 7” barrel,  LETHALITY – 12

M&P40

 

Model M&P 40, 40 S&W caliber, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 23

1911SC

 

Model 1911SC, 45acp caliber, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 22

M&PShield

 

Model SHIELD, 40 S&W caliber, 3” barrel, LETHALITY –  21

BG380

Model BGA380, 380acp caliber, 2” barrel, LETHALITY – 19

And the winner is – the M&P 40 pistol, which happens to be Smith & Wesson’s standard gun carried by police.  The reason it gets the most lethal score is because it holds more than 15 rounds of a very powerful cartridge; in fact, the only cartridge more powerful in the above list is the 357 magnum, and while the 351PD revolver only holds 5 rounds of this extremely lethal ammunition, the gun scores high on the scale because the ammo is very powerful and the gun is very small. Let’s not forget that lethality is not just a function of the amount of ammo loaded into the gun; it’s also based on how easy it is to carry the gun around.

Notice that the BGA380 gets a score that is not in the range of the bigger guns because while it is very concealable it also loads with only a moderately powerful round.  But Smith & Wesson also markets a version of this gun with an integral laser, which means that you don’t have to aim the gun at all.  Just pull the trigger halfway and the laser lights up; now you’re playing a video game with a real, live gun.  And I have decided to award 3 points to gun with integral lasers, which means the laser model of the tiny BGA380 would almost match the lethality of the full-size M&P.

The lowest lethality score was awarded to the Model 41, which is a beautiful, hand-crafted target gun designed specifically for sport and competitive shooting at the range.  But the barrel length makes it very difficult to conceal, and hence I don’t consider it to be an extremely lethal gun.

Over the next few days I am going to publish similar lethality lists for other handgun manufacturers plus rifles and shotguns as well.  Feel free to offer suggestions or comments so that I can tighten and improve my work.

 

Know What Happens When Gun Companies Cozy Up To The NRA? They Get A Big Bang For Small Bucks.

I used to be an IT executive for a Fortune 100 company that was a leader in life insurance sales.  Every year I received a personal letter from the company CEO thanking me for my $5,000 donation to the insurance PAC that represented the life insurance industry on Capitol Hill.  Donation?  That’s a good one. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to donate the five big ones.  The money was deducted from my paycheck before I got the letter from the CEO.  It was understood that 5% of my net pay went to support the lobbyists in Washington, DC.

I find it almost amusing that anyone feels surprised or bothered by the fact that the gun industry donates heavily to the NRA.  I mean, what’s a girl supposed to do?  Sit home by herself on prom night while everyone else is out on the town?  Let’s get real, folks.  There would be no reason for gun companies to support the NRA if the industry wasn’t regulated by the feds and in the cross-hairs of some folks who would like to regulate it even more.

wayne            Know why gun sales always go up when regulation is in the air?  Because the gun industry knows full well that the end result of more regulation is less guns.  The GVP community can declare from today to next year that they believe in the 2nd Amendment, but the amendment most of them support happens to be the one that, until 2008, conferred gun ownership on members of military units, not folks who just wanted to keep a gun around the house.  And while I doubt very much that a SCOTUS with a liberal majority would overturn Heller, the fact is that just about every post-Heller effort to water down gun regulations even further has failed.  No matter what those crazy militia groups believe, the government isn’t getting out of the gun-control business any time soon, and even Glenn Beck, a guy who’s against gun regulations if I ever saw one, told the ‘open carry’ gang to cease and desist.

If Hillary gets elected and manages to push through a law extending background checks to private transfers, gun ownership will go down. If more states enact laws limiting magazine capacity or waiting periods for handgun purchases, gun ownership will go down.  If the California bill that requires background checks for ammo sales is passed and spreads to other states, gun ownership will go down.  In my state, Massachusetts, there was a brief spike in CCW applications after Sandy Hook but as soon as word got around that the state would not impose new restrictions on gun owners, the demand for licenses dropped off.

In 2014, for the first time in at least 20 years, the yearly dues revenue collected by the NRA went down, and I don’t mean by just a little bit.  The decline was in the neighborhood of 27%, and if this trend continues for another couple of years, Wayne-o can kiss his bottom line goodbye. So the fact that the gun industry chipped in with roughly $100 million in cash gifts and grants doesn’t really fill the gaping hole that now exists because of the drop in dues.

Back in 2013 the Violence Policy Center released a report on money given by the gun industry to the NRA. Glock donated somewhere between $250,000 and half a mil; Smith & Wesson ponied up somewhere between a million and four, Ruger did the same.  For the sake of argument let’s say these three outfits gave the NRA six million bucks. Know what their net income was that year?  Try $300 million.  And that was after they gave the dough to the NRA.

Talk about getting it on the cheap. Hell, I gave a larger percentage of my net income to the insurance lobbyists than Ruger, Smith and Glock give to the NRA. Anti-Hillary rhetoric to the contrary, the NRA better hope her address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come next year.

‘The Gunning Of America’ Is A Good And Serious Book.

Pamela Haag describes herself as an “award-winning nonfiction writer, essayist, cultural commentator, and historian.”  And she has just published a new book, The Gunning of America, which fills some interesting gaps in the history of America’s first manufacturing industry, a.k.a., small arms.  The book is based on painstaking and detailed research in documents from, among others, the company archives of Winchester, Remington and Colt, supplemented by generous citations from primary and secondary sources, including personal correspondence of the early gun makers, articles and notices from the daily press and a pretty comprehensive knowledge of other contemporary, secondary works.  In other words, this is a serious history book.

         Winchester 1873

Winchester 1873

What Haag attempts to show is that guns may not have been an intrinsically American phenomenon had it not been for the marketing energies and activities of the founders of companies like Colt, Remington and Winchester, all of whom attempted to push as many guns as possible into domestic and foreign markets in order to protect and improve company bottom lines. On more than one occasion, companies like Colt and Smith & Wesson were only able to keep the factory doors open by aggressively pursuing government contracts both here and abroad; the senior management of Winchester never stopped reminding the sales force of the necessity to sell every single gun.

One of the gaps filled by this book is its focus on guns not as representing political beliefs or cultural attitudes, but as a business in and of itself.  The author quite rightly says that “the gun business, as a business, remains invisible, a secret in the closet of the gun culture,” and this book is an effort to bring it out of the closet, so to speak, and examine it on its own business terms.

The problem in trying to look at the gun business through a business prism develops, however, when the author attempts to compare how the gun business marketed itself in past times as opposed to the way it explains itself now.  The author is absolutely correct when she says that current-day efforts by the industry to picture itself as ‘exceptional’ based on a unique relationship that America has with guns is not an accurate picture of how and why the civilian ownership of hundreds of millions of small arms came about.  Rather, the idea that every American should have a gun was a marketing strategy of gun makers from the earliest times precisely because some way had to be found to convince consumers that guns were not just another ordinary product that they could either own or do without.

What makes Pamela Haag’s argument somewhat problematic, however, is that while she captures nicely and accurately the marketing message employed by the gun business today, she basically ends her discussion of the actual workings of the gun industry in the 1920’s, nearly a century ago.  So while she is correct in saying that by 1900 gun sales were relying on demand caused by “desire and affinity, rather than utility,” the marketing message has now swung back to the argument for utility, except that utility is now defined in a much different way.

The reason that the numero uno gun company in America happens to be an Austrian outfit by the name of Glock is because the gun industry has replaced the iconic figure of the gun totin’ Western sheriff (or the gun-totin’ San Francisco cop) with the gun-totin’ armed citizen whose right to defend himself and his family doesn’t just derive from the 2nd Amendment, but comes straight from God.  And if you think I’m overstating the case for the alliance between guns, concealed-carry and the Almighty, just listen to Wayne-o’s convocation speech delivered at Liberty University earlier this year.

I like books that are well written and well researched and this one is both.  And I agree with Pam Haag that in our efforts to reduce gun violence the spotlight needs to shine more brightly on gun makers themselves. Too bad she couldn’t gain access to the archive of the NSSF.

 

Want To Make A Million In The Gun Business? Start With Two Million.

If you think I’m kidding about losing your rear end in the gun business, I can tell you that if I had been holding one million shares of S&W stock three weeks ago I would have been worth roughly $30 million bucks and the same pile of shares today would fetch about $8 million less.  Meanwhile, the financial media is abuzz with the idea that the great run-up of gun sales thanks to you-know-who in the White House has finally come to an end. On the other hand, according to FBI-NICS, the number of background checks is at an all-time high. So what’s really going on?

First of all, we need to remember that most of the guns manufactured in the United States come from companies that are still in private hands.  The only publicly-owned companies that provide detailed numbers are Smith & Wesson and Ruger, which together account for roughly 20% of all guns made each year in the US, but because of imports to the US market, their overall share of the gun business is somewhat less.

As for FBI-NICS background checks, these numbers are also not quite what they seem.  The gun industry would like you to believe that NICS checks are continuing to zoom upward, but the report issued by the FBI each month counts every time the telephone rings at the NICS call center in West Virginia, whether it’s for a gun transfer or not.  And in fact, roughly half the background checks each month are for reasons that have nothing to do with gun transfers at all, namely, to check the validity of gun licenses, pawn redemptions, etc.

The reason why several stock analysts downgraded S&W stock was because handgun transfers dropped 13% from February to March, with the decline in long gun transfers also noticeable but not quite as severe. And while the sell-through numbers posted in Ruger’s latest 10K report indicates that products aren’t piling up on anyone’s shelves, the bottom line is that gun sales simply haven’t been all that strong since the post-Sandy Hook gun-control furor died down.

Before I get into the NICS numbers in more detail, first, NICS doesn’t distinguish between new and used guns, which means, to begin with, that using NICS to judge the health of gun-making companies isn’t such a bright idea. Second, since NICS covers transfers, not the number of guns transferred, the monthly numbers for handguns and long guns are certainly undercounted, but nobody knows by how much.  On the other hand, NICS data is a good measure of gun transfer trends, which obviously reflects the health of the industry as a whole.

With that in mind, let’s look at monthly NICS transfers for March and start back in 2005.  Total gun transfers that March were 580,000, which climbed to 675,000 in March, 2008.  The number went to 900,000 in Obama’s first March (2009) and remained right around that figure each March through 2012.  Then we had Sandy Hook and a noisy argument about expanding background checks – the 2013 number was 1.4 million, but in 2014 it slipped down 17% to 1.1 million and remained at that same level the following year.

Here’s the bottom line.  Despite all the hue and cry from Gun Nation about how ‘everyone’ is getting into guns, the NICS numbers have been basically unchanged since the Democrats stopped trying to regulate guns.  And nobody is going to tell me that the 40% increase in NICS directly after Sandy Hook reflected a sudden upswell of interest by new buyers who wanted to purchase guns. So the gun market will continue to drift downward until the Clintons reclaim their love nest at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Unless the unthinkable happens in November and we elect someone who just ‘loves’ the 2nd Amendment.  In which case you can start off with however much money you want and you’ll still wind up with bupkis when all is said and done.

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.