Glock author discusses national firearm debate
4:24 pm, February 25th, 2013
Paul Barrett, author of the well-timed book, “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun,” spoke to the Georgia Bar, Media and Judiciary Conference Saturday, and he offered his thoughts on the current national conversation about firearms.
It’s important to note that Barrett, an editor at Bloomberg Businessweek and a law professor, has done his best to approach Glock in particular, and guns in general, with the objectivity of a reporter, not a partisan. His meticulously reported book explains the success of the Glock pistol, which has attained near-iconic status in America after its humble beginnings in the workshop of an Austrian tinkerer.
Part of the success of the Glock is its superior design, but it also hit the market at the right time, and Barrett had to explore America’s evolving attitudes toward firearms to explain Glock’s trajectory. In the process of researching the book, he became an astute student of firearms’ place in American life.
Yes, Barrett works for that Bloomberg, and Barrett is a gun owner and recreational shooter, and a member of the NRA, for, as he says, “research purposes.”
Here are some of the observations he offered in an hour and a half talk with CNN’s Jessica Thill over lunch at the Georgia Bar.
The current buying frenzy will abate. The reason is economic: People cannot buy an infinite number of guns. Just as we might want and think we need 12 cars, we reach a point where we can’t afford more. There was a buying spree in the run-up to the 1994 assault weapons ban, and it was followed by a recession in gun sales as people exhausted their ability to buy. “You would think that by now everyone who wants to lawfully purchase a gun has one,” he says, “but yet they continue to sell. The elasticity of demand is not infinite, but is quite extraordinary.”
Barrett calls it fear marketing—buy all the guns you can before they’re banned. Retailers want you to believe this is your last chance to buy, and cynically stoking this fear is filling the NRA’s coffers, too.
History repeats itself. Barrett says the 1994 assault weapons ban, shepherded through Congress by Diane Feinstein and Joe Biden, had the opposite effect intended because people rushed to buy guns banned by the law before it went into effect, thereby greatly increasing the number of these guns in circulation. The same phenomenon is occurring now, but he adds that an increase in the number of legally owned guns does not correlate with an increase in crime.
Before the discussion began on the 1994 ban, Barrett said military style, semi-automatic rifles—so-called assault rifles– had marginal sales, but the ban made them an object of fascination. Again, the phenomenon is repeating. Barrett added that such rifles are rarely used in “ordinary” crimes such as robberies.
The Glock drew the attention of lawmakers before the 1994 ban because it was used in a Texas mass shooting that killed 22 people and its larger capacity magazine made it brutally effective. But Barrett says that despite its notoriety, the Glock is not a popular weapon of criminals, who typically are caught with cheap handguns, usually obtained illegally. “People do not tend to stick up the 7-11 with an AR-15,” he says.
As for tighter background checks, Barrett says gun retailers are quietly supportive, though they don’t want to raise the ire of the NRA. Every gun sold privately or at a gun show is a gun that isn’t sold in a store.
The best way to stop mass shootings, Barrett says, is to look at mental illness and access to guns as interwoven issues. Identify
troubled, suicidal young men and separate them from guns, Barrett says. That’s more important than debating magazine capacity.
As for the current proposals in Congress, Barrett doesn’t think anything would make a difference in ordinary crime, pointing out that there are more than 300 million guns in circulation in the U.S. and “nobody is proposing anything that would result in the confiscation of anything.”
Barrett says he has a “live and let live” attitude toward proposals to expand carry zones, such as the idea to allow guns on college
campuses. “If people start shooting each other, if every campus rivalry turns into the Hatfields and the McCoys, then it will turn out to be a really bad idea.”
“I don’t feel the need to carry a gun with me,” he says, “and where I live and work I’m not allowed to. New York has very restrictive laws. But the key thing to remember with guns is . . . people of good faith see these things in radically different ways.”