Las Vegas Sun

November 27, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Why the gun control debate is a boon to the firearms industry

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

President Barack Obama laid out his agenda today to reduce gun violence, but here’s the reality: Obama’s re-election and the Sandy Hook massacre have been a gift to the gun industry and the gun rights lobby.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but that’s the sober -- and I believe accurate -- assessment of Paul Barrett, an editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and author of “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun.”

Last year, when his book was published, I went shooting with him at Desert Hills Shooting Club.

Barrett is in town this week for the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show, a major industry gathering held at the Sands Expo & Convention Center. I met him for coffee to talk about the newly charged political atmosphere surrounding guns.

Barrett is a fair-minded reporter who tries to put himself in the shoes of gun owners, gun rights advocates and gun dealers. I think it’s fair to say he’s skeptical -- as am I -- of the effectiveness of gun control.

He said it wasn’t a judgment, rather a simple observation that recent events won’t appreciably change the tenor of the debate and will more likely translate into boom times for the industry and its lobby.

“This plays to the advantage of the gun industry and the NRA,” he said.

Indeed, my colleague Eli Segall visited gun stores around the valley recently and found that sales at the Gun Store on East Tropicana Avenue were almost five times that of a typical December. At Discount Firearms and Ammo on South Highland Drive, sales were up six fold.

Buyers fear the government will restrict assault rifles or large-capacity magazines, so inventory is flying off the shelves.

As for the NRA, Barrett said he suspects, “They are secretly thrilled.”

The NRA, he noted, is a “fundraising organization.” The group amassed a string of political victories during the past decade and pummeled the opposition into oblivion. (Do you remember Obama calling for gun control during the campaign? I don’t.) But Washington interest groups never declare victory and go home. Win or lose, their very existence is their own reason for being. That’s why even when the NRA had secured almost total victory before Sandy Hook, it kept pushing an even more maximalist agenda, demanding the right to carry a weapon everywhere and at all times.

Still, the new push for gun control pushes the organization back into the forefront of the national dialogue -- they claimed 100,000 new members in less than three weeks after Sandy Hook.

“You can’t raise money on peace and tranquility,” Barrett said. “Fundraising appeals are more effective if the enemy is active as opposed to dormant,” he added. In this case, the gun control movement is the enemy.

For Barrett, this is deja vu all over again.

In the 90s, the Assault Weapons Ban and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which instituted background checks on some gun sales, mobilized an increasingly politicized NRA, while also juicing gun sales.

“Glock built its empire on gun control,” Barrett said. Gun buyers love nothing more than a firearm you tell them they can’t have.

Since the last go round with gun control, however, gun culture has continued to evolve. Once the province of target shooters and hunters the industry and its customers are increasingly focused on self-defense -- despite the two-decade long collapse in violent crime -- survival and political resistance, Barrett said.

The result is that the industry is much more focused on paramilitary tactical weaponry, both because that’s what customers want and/or successful marketing campaigns have persuaded potential customers that that’s what they need.

Meanwhile, although other “culture war” issues such as gay rights and -- to a lesser degree -- abortion have cooled, gun rights remain front-and-center.

So what we have is a gun rights lobby that feels, as Barrett says, “besieged and victimized” and is now newly energized by the latest gun control discussion.

The movement overlaps with other political subcultures which often do not recognize the legitimacy of the democratically elected United States government, asserting that Obama is secretly a foreigner or that Democrats have won elections through the fraudulent votes of illegal immigrants. They sometimes assert that Obama is a totalitarian and that gun ownership is a defense against tyranny.

And, it goes without saying, they are heavily armed.

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