More Guns. And Witches.

Gun control (I refuse to use the politically expedient phrase “gun violence” – we should call a spade a spade) has been much in the news lately.  One branch of the story is that gun sales rose dramatically – by 200-300% – after the Sandy Hook massacre.  I would have expected people to recoil in horror at Sandy Hook, and for gun sales to drop accordingly.  Obviously, a significant number of people feel differently.  I will freely admit that I don’t get it.

In previous posts about gun control, I’ve mentioned the unique character of the AR-15, the weapon that was used to such devastating effect in both Sandy Hook and Aurora, and which is the biggest selling rifle in the country.  The AR-15, which is both the precursor to, and the civilian version of, the military M-16, is a high velocity, low-caliber rifle.  By low-caliber, I mean that it’s a .22, the same gauge as the rifles our kids (mine included) learn to shoot at summer camps all over America.  However, a bullet comes out of an AR-15 at 3250 feet per second, which is about three times faster than the summer camp variety.  That high velocity, combined with something – I’m frankly not sure exactly what – about the bullet’s design, causes the bullet to tumble and then fragment upon impact.  The result is a weapon that is relatively small and light, has little recoil, yet does extraordinary damage to the flesh it encounters.

In response to one of those posts, someone commented that the military purpose of this design is to wound rather than kill.  The objective, he said, was to force enemy soldiers to care for wounded comrades.  I haven’t seen any evidence that this is the case.  I did, however, see a CNBC documentary called American Gun – Rise of the AR-15, which describes the bullet-tumbling and shows x-rays of wounds caused by AR-15s.  They are, as you might imagine, horrific.  I recommend this documentary, which is informative and by no means an anti-gun rant (unlike it’s sister station MSNBC, CNBC is not exactly a beacon of liberalism), to anyone who is interested in this issue.

As far as I can tell, there is no reasonable civilian use for this particular type of firearm.  If you’re hunting a deer that you plan to eat, the last thing you want is to hit it with a bullet that’s going to shred it and then leave fragments in your venison steak.  And if you’re interested in target practice, it confers no advantage over a host of firearms that have less killing power.  On the other hand, if you want to kill dozens of school children, moviegoers, blacks, Jews or Federal agents, or perhaps just want to pretend you’re a tough guy. . .

I don’t know any way out of this mess other than to amend the Second Amendment.  Aside from the vexing comma (for the unfamiliar, it appears after the word ‘militia’ and renders the amendment’s intent utterly vague; of course, the amendment itself was written with a quill, so perhaps it was just a random ink drop), it’s meaning seems pretty clear.  “Shall not be infringed” sounds a lot like “Shall not be infringed.”  It was written in a different era, under different conditions and for different purposes than those that obtain today.  There has to be a way to preserve both liberty and safety.   I don’t know what it is, but hope we can find the courage to figure it out.

On a separate note, the main news story continues to be the Boston bombing.  I remain in awe of the people – not just the professionals, but the bystanders – who threw their own safety to the wind and rushed to the aid of the wounded.  They are the best of America.  One of them, by the way, is my brother-in-law, a lieutenant in Boston EMS.  He’s the guy who trains them for this sort of event, and he was in the thick of it.

All of that said, and I know I’m going to get in trouble for this, every time I see the “suspects’” mom on TV, I can’t help but make this comparison.

Witch - Tsarnaev Mother

When this story finally unfolds, I suspect we’ll find out that it wasn’t about extremism, Islamic or otherwise, but rather was the story of an immensely dysfunctional family.  As the saying goes, if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.

6 thoughts on “More Guns. And Witches.

  1. Dan,

    Although you are a very intelligent guy – who I happen to like and consider a friend – I must say your willingness to wade into these divisive political waters surprises me. I’m reminded of actor’s and musicians (although not comparing you to the level of intelligence here – and also not suggesting “all” actor’s and musicians lack intelligence) but why risk alienating fans, clients, networkers, etc… Not to mention, your just plain off the reservation suggesting we make changes to the constitution. I will always remember that well known Carville line in reference to George 41, “It’s the economy, stupid!” The rest is all smoke screen.

    I look forward to your next business insight blog!



    1. Thank you, Michael. I’m glad you consider me a friend, and I don’t really know why I do this either :-). I can tell you that I was genuinely surprised by the gun sale numbers – not a judgment about right or wrong, just a surprise – and also that I think some common sense solution can preserve liberty while limiting the ability of the Lanzas and Loughners to do damange, but I will admit to being mystified as to what it is.

      Business blog insights forthcoming via Tailwind Discovery Group, and you will receive them!

  2. As usual I am in awe of your ability to build cogent arguments based on factual information about issues most discuss only thru emotion and ideology. To add to your fact about gun sales, it seems that number of gun owners is down but number of guns owned per gun owner us way up. I interpret this to mean that those filled with fear and anger are arming themselves for Armageddon. Very scary.

    I am encouraged to see that some of those voting against the background check bill, a minor event in actually doing something, are seeing a big drop in approval ratings. Perhaps these pawns of the gun industry will find that going against the public will has fire consequences.

    And, great pictures. Which is the bombers’ mother?

  3. Dan
    As always – you have a unique ability to verbally hit the nail on the head. No one can argue that there is any honest use for a civilian AR15 and they need to be banned. I think it’s time to make a smart gun that can only be activated by the buyers fingerprint. If that individual wants to sell it they would have to take the gun to a legitimate certified dealer who could reprogram the gun to accept the new owners fingerprint after a background check was complete.
    Just an idea – but if we are not careful we are going to change our DNA as a nation
    Again – Excellent job in expressing what a lot of us think

  4. Like most tricky problems – how the gun “issue” is framed has a huge impact on how people react and think about it. In my opinion – the biggest mistake that those who would like to see less guns in the country and less guns used in crime – is to frame it as “gun control” – like it or not the 2nd amendment gives people in this country the “right to bear arms” (if you don’t like you are free to seek amendment of the amendment…)

    If you think that amending the 2nd amendment might take a little while – and that you don’t have a hundred years to spare – and you still want to reduce the number of guns and the amount of gun violence then you have to reframe the debate – because if the debate is between those who want to “respect the US constitution” and those who want to “control guns” – then I know who is going to win that debate 100 times out of 100.

    The first thing to do is to say “yes – as citizens of the US we all have the right to own a gun” – but the second thing to declare is that like all rights – this right comes with obligations – and the obligation should be that all people have to be responsible gun owners. I don’t think too many gun owners would argue for the counterfactual to that statement.

    Then the debate can move on to defining what is “responsible gun ownership”. This could be answered in several ways – one way being to pass a multiplicity of legislation that would seek to define responsibility in minute detail – but in my opinion this path goes nowhere. I think the only way to institutionalize responsibility is through a person’s wallet and by creating a set of market incentives for people to react to.

    If I were President for a day I would propose one simple piece of legislation in this area – declaring that if a gun is used in commission of a crime – that the owner of that gun has strict liability for the damages that are caused, i.e., they would be liable even if they did not pull the trigger. At the same time I would propose that liability insurance could be purchased to cover this risk. This would serve a multiplicity of legitimate social purposes – it would create funds for those who are directly hurt by gun violence – as opposed to having those costs socialized through the healthcare “system”. In addition, it would bring into the picture the most powerful force in modifying behavior – the market.

    Insurance companies would now be motivated to come up with creative ways for people to save money on their “weapon liability” coverage. Keep your guns in a locker – save 40%. Keep them in a safe – save 60%! One can imagine them thinking of lots of novel ways to make devices that are intrinsically dangerous – much less risky – and therefore cheaper to insure. The insurance companies would also be motivated to set rates based on the actual risk of the weapon in question – particularly lethal weapons like the AR15 would presumably be extremely expensive to insure – while hunting rifles might be much less expensive.

    Those law-abiding citizens who don’t really want/need a gun anymore would presumably hand them in to be destroyed – which would help reduce the number of guns that appear to be sitting in drawers in homes waiting to be picked up by small children and used in accidental shooting incidents.

    For the strict liability rule to work it would require that all guns be individually identified – apparently we can do this with cars via something called a VIN so I don’t think it can be that hard – and recorded somewhere. At this point the libertarian fringe will jump up and declare that its a plot to create a database of weapons so the government can come collect them when they want to suppress our rights. At this point the President has to do something called “leading the country” – and make the argument that this is about achieving responsible gun ownership – and that it is impossible to create such a structure without identification of the weapons and tying them to a person who is going to be responsible for each one of them.

    There will always be people who won’t register/insure their weapons. In general terms those people are known as criminals. This proposal wont immediately impact them – but that’s why we have a police force. As and when the police encounter unregistered and/or uninsured guns – they will confiscate them. Over time this will have an effect on the number of guns on the street – commensurate with the level of resources we decide as a society to apply to the effort.

    This proposal will also not stop those who are mentally ill – and able to get hold of a gun – from doing whatever they are going to do – although I think it could make it materially harder for those people to actually get their hands on a weapon if the number of weapons in circulation falls and those out there are locked up by their legitimate owners.

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