Why Do We Buy Guns? It Sure Isn’t Because We Need Them.

In 1883 a young New Yorker named Theodore Roosevelt went out on a hunting trip to the Dakota and Montana territories.  His goal was to get a trophy-sized American bison and mount the trophy in the family home at Oyster Bay.  The reason he went on this hunt, and he did bring back a bison trophy, was he had been told that the bison herd was about to become extinct.

TR           This was not the only game animal that was fast disappearing from its natural habitat; the white-tailed deer was also an endangered species by the end of the nineteenth century, the carrier pigeon was almost gone (and did disappear), and had it not been for the foresight and advocacy of conservationists and naturalists like Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, many other animal and game species would have also faded away.

How did this happen?  It happened because almost from the moment that Europeans arrived on America’s eastern shore, hunting became a commercial endeavor in response to a growing population that wanted and needed animal products both to consume for food and to use for clothing and other consumer wares.  Bear in mind that hunting in Europe, particularly England, was an activity reserved only for the nobility and the Crown.  Commoners, on the other hand, didn’t hunt, they poached, and as late as 1820 in Britain poaching was still a crime for which one could be hung.  But the United States had vast amounts of open space and if much of that space belonged to Native Americans nobody really cared.  These open spaces and the animals that roamed or flew there meant meat on the table for the average diet, leather coats for men, fur coats for women, feathers for decorative purposes and style – all of these products created opportunities for commercial endeavors resulting in the massive destruction of herds, fish and fowl.

And when it came to killing off all those animals, what could be more efficient than using a gun?  But with all due respect to how Davy Crockett ‘kilt him a bar when he was only three,’ very little of this hunting activity was done either then or now for sport.  Know how many hunting licenses were sold in 1955?  Roughly 14 million.  Know how many were sold in 2014?  Roughly 14 million. That’s an astonishingly flat trend line for nearly sixty years.  But there’s only one little problem.  During that same period, the country’s population grew from 166 million to 319 million, an increase of nearly 100% while the number of hunters hasn’t changed at all.  In other words, hunters constituted 8% of the national population in 1955, now they constitute a whole, big 4%.

Let’s remember something else.  Guns aren’t like television sets, laptop computers or cars.  They don’t wear out. And hunters are a funny breed because once they find a gun that really shoots perfectly for them, the last thing they’re going to do is trade it in.  There have been some product changes that have kept the hunting gun market from total collapse, most of all more powerful calibers like 44 magnums replacing the venerable 30-30 for deer, or 3 ½ inch magnum shotgun shells for those hy-flyers zipping by or those turkeys cluckety-clucking through the woods.

Take a look at Pamela Haag’s study of the marketing strategy adopted by Winchester Firearms which recognized that the idea of the gun as a necessary ‘tool’ was failing to attract consumers before World War I.  So Winchester began marketing its products to what they referred to in company discussions as ‘gun cranks’ –  people who wanted guns even if they didn’t particularly need them for any practical use.

Sound familiar?  The gun industry now sells guns as protection against crime, even though the number of times that people use guns as protective devices is actually little to none.  In 1910 Winchester discovered that people would buy guns even though there was no practical reason to own a gun.  Boy, things have really changed.

 

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A Guide To Gun Lethality.

                See link below for downloading this Guide. mcx

             Last week I uploaded a document that described the basic design and function of handguns, rifles and shotguns, with an eye towards giving GVP advocates some basic information on how guns work. But understanding the design and mechanics of guns is one thing, understanding their lethality is something else.  Because until the 1980s, a combination of manufacturing technologies employed by the gun industry and the perceived consumer market for guns kept most gun models very lethal for use in hunting small and medium-sized game, but were not designed to be highly lethal in situations where human beings were the targets that would be injured or killed.

This traditional approach to gun design and function began to change in the 1980s when Gun-nut Nation discovered that hunting and sport shooting were quickly becoming relics of a distant past; i.e., people who owned guns for hunting or sport were not being replaced as the older gun-owning generations died out.  So Gun-nut Nation came up with a new reason for owning guns, namely, the myth that guns were necessary to protect society from crime.  An in this respect the industry was not so much inventing a fanciful reason for gun ownership as it was responding to an increased and generalized fear that crime and the ‘criminal element’ was out of control.

The public concern about crime also coincided with new technologies, in particular the use of lightweight alloys and polymers that allowed guns to withstand higher pressures from more powerful ammunition while, at the same time, being designed and built on smaller and lighter frames. Polymer and injection-molding manufacturing has enabled all kinds of consumer products to be miniaturized yet made more durable at the same time; this miniaturization has gone hand-in-hand with personalization; i.e., the consumer becomes the ultimate arbiter for determining the design and function of the product itself.

In the gun industry, these two factors – social attitudes, manufacturing technologies – have combined to revolutionize the look, feel and use of guns.  The revolver that I purchased in 1976 looked, felt and weighed the same as the same gun manufactured seventy years before.  I can purchase that same gun today, but I can also purchase a revolver that is half as large and fires ammunition that is twice as powerful. Which means that if I want to get close enough to another person to shoot and hurt them I can now stick a little gun in my pocket, walk right up next to them with my unnoticed gun, and quickly deliver a very shot, whether I have practiced shooting the gun or not.

Taking all these factors into account, I have created a gun lethality scorecard which you can download here.  It contains my best guess for the lethality rating of 95 different kinds of guns.  Like the ‘guns for dummies” document that I posted last week, this document will also shortly be available in published form.