It was hard to put my finger on what was the most disheartening thing I heard or read last week. If could, of course, have been pretty much anything out of Donald Trump’s mouth. But that, I suspect, will hold for pretty much any old week between now and November 8th. (With luck, not beyond.) Or it might have been the fact that, the day after the Brexit vote, the second most googled “ask” in the UK was ‘what is the EU?’ (Talk about setting a new low for low-information voting….)
I took a break from mulling this over to read this week’s New Yorker. Namely, an article on the gun business.
I would not categorize myself as an anti-gun nut. Let hunters hunt, and let those who feel compelled to keep a hand gun for “security” purposes go right ahead. (And good luck. I believe the statistics aren’t necessarily on the side of this being a good thing.)
Growing up, the only people I knew who had guns were my city-boy uncles Jack and Bob, who were hunters, and my friend Marie’s father, who was a cop. (When he was off-duty, he kept his in a box on the shelf in the bedroom closet.) In my adult life, my husband’s aunt and uncle kept a number of guns in their home. Bill was a hunter, and also collected old guns. Some of what he hunted was squirrels that got into Carrie’s bird feeders. To take on these varmints, Bill kept a loaded shot gun next to the toilet in the downstairs half-bath. It always made me nervous to use that toilet, let alone how crazy it made me when one of their grandkids went in there when they were still little. (As Bill and Carrie got older, my fear was that someone would break in and steal their guns. After Bill died, I was delighted when Carrie got rid of them.)
So I’m not all that up on gun culture, but I don’t think all gun owners are awful, or that all guns should be outlawed. And I also agree that all the gun laws in the world won’t get rid of all our gun-related crime.
What I don’t understand are things like why anyone should be able to buy military-grade weaponry. Or why there’s resistance to short wait-periods before someone can get their trigger fingers on a new gun. Or why smart-gun technology is considered so anathema to the NRA.
You’d think that the NRA would be all over something that could keep the gun in your bedside table from being used by the burglar robbing your house to kill you with. Or could prevent a four year old from shooting a two year old, or a two year old from accidentally killing his mother.
But, no. Smart guns? NRA no like.
Here’s what I read in that New Yorker article.
In the late 1990’s, Smith & Wesson had come up with a solution “that would not only sell more guns but lower the toll of gun violence.” The company was not necessarily acting altruistically with respect to gun violence. Mostly they wanted to end the mounting number of lawsuits being lodged against them.
In the hope of ending the lawsuits, [Smith & Wesson CEO Ed Schultz] secretly agreed to negotiate with the Clinton Administration. To avoid detection, the talks were held in airport hotels and obscure federal offices. After six weeks, the negotiators were near a deal, and Shultz was sitting across from the Administration’s point man, Andrew Cuomo, who was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. (Source: New Yorker*)
On March 17, 2000, Clinton and Cuomo announced the deal: among other things, Smith & Wesson agreed to develop a smart gun and take steps to prevent dealers from selling to criminals. Cuomo declared, “We are finally on the road to a safer, more peaceful America.” But on the day the deal went public the N.R.A. denounced Smith & Wesson as “the first gun maker to run up the white flag of surrender.” It released Shultz’s phone number, and encouraged members to complain. He received many threats. One caller said, “I’m a dead-on shot, Mr. Shultz.”… Online, a boycott took hold, and sales of Smith & Wesson guns fell so sharply that two factories temporarily shut down. In ten months, the stock lost ninety-five per cent of its value, and the company was sold the next year for a fraction of its former worth.
Shultz left the company, and he all but stopped talking to the press. When I happened on a phone number for him, he called me back only to ask how I’d found it. “I need to know where the hole is, so I can plug it,” he said, and declined to talk about the gun business.
Congress, of course, acted nobly.
In 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act immunized gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers from civil liability for damages caused by their products.
Smith & Wesson got back in the good graces of the NRA, but to stay there:
The gunmaker has never forgotten Ed Shultz’s attempt at compromise. “It almost took down the company,” [CEO James] Debney told an interviewer in 2013. “We won’t make that mistake again.”
Ah. I see. Putting a smart gun on the market would be a mistake.
Even if there’s no mandate that every gun has to be a smart gun.
NRA no like. They fear, I suppose, that this is the thin edge of the wedge issue and that, once there’s proven smart gun technology available, those meddlesome legislatures will start making it mandatory.
Meanwhile, the NRA and the companies it so ably and evilly represents, lobbying guns a-blazin’, keep revving things up, encouraging gun owners to buy more and more guns. There are now more than 300 million guns in the US, which is nearly what our population is.
Disheartening to read that a couple of decades ago, Smith & Wesson kinda-sorta tried to do the right thing. And was nearly driven out of business because of it.
What crazy, disheartening info will this week bring?
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