On gun control via government purchasing

As I do on occasion, I was perusing some of the various gun control groups sites and seeing what they were up to. In so doing, I discovered an interesting proposal that I had not previously known about: using the purchasing power of government agencies like police departments to implement gun control.

Although some people, including former Governor of New York Elliot Spitzer, have written about such strategies in the past, I’ve not heard of it before now. Gov. Spitzer’s explains the strategy:

Here is how it could work with guns: The Defense Department and the city of New York are among the largest purchasers of guns. If the president and the mayor truly believe that semi-automatic weapons should not be available to private purchasers, and that magazines with more than 10 bullets should not be sold over the counter, they should simply say that, from now on, the federal government and the city of New York, as a matter of public safety, will not buy any weapons or ammunition from companies that do not agree to pull semi-automatics from their stock and refuse to produce magazines with more than 10 rounds other than for sale to the government. President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg should announce that semiautomatic handguns with high-capacity magazines—the kind used in Oak Creek; Aurora, Colo.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Virginia Tech—can no longer be sold to private citizens by any company that wants to do business with the federal government and the city of New York.

The major gun manufacturers will agree to the limits imposed by their major customers.

Gov. Spitzer’s plan is certainly interesting, but it relies on a few key assumptions without which the entire scheme collapses:

  1. Government sales constitute a sufficiently large fraction of gun sales that manufacturers would be unwilling to lose their business, thus restricting what’s available for public sale to keep government business.
  2. No other manufacturer would step in to fill the gap left by those playing along with the government.

While point #1 may apply to certain companies that are particularly reliant on government sales (what’s the breakdown of government:civilian sales for companies like, say, Colt?), it’s unlikely to matter for a lot of the smaller companies — I doubt that Stag Arms, Mega Arms, Magpul, and other relatively small manufacturers of somewhat “controversial” things like AR-15s, magazines holding more than 10 rounds, or guns with black plastic bits really care much if the Defense Department or the government of the State of New York don’t buy their stuff because they probably don’t buy their products already. They can’t lose sales they’re not already making, so this strategy can’t apply any sort of leverage against them.

Point #1 also breaks down when you look at sales figures: sure, a government agency may be the largest single customer of a particular company, but they make up a relatively small amount of total sales. As an example, let’s be generous and say that the State of New York is a manufacturer’s largest single customer and contributes to 10% of the company’s total income with the rest coming from smaller customers (e.g. local police departments, say a combined total of 10%) and individual buyers (80%). Even if the local police departments play along with the state, why would a company eschew 80% of its sales to appease a minority of its customers? That wouldn’t be good publicity for the company, particularly when the government makes it clear that they’re doing this specifically to apply leverage — what’s to stop the government from asking for more in the future and cutting off purchases if they don’t get what they want?

Point #2 reflects the state of the market: ARs are among the most popular guns in the country for private citizens. Manufacturers have been running around-the-clock to keep up with demand and there’s still a backlog. It would be foolish in the extreme for one company to simply give up their share of that market, generate enormous customer backlash, and allow other companies to take their place. There’s plenty of competition in the market, and while there might be some disruption if one of the big contract forges/casting houses leaves the market, someone else will happily take their place. Again, while the government might be the largest single customer of certain companies, they almost certainly make up a relatively small fraction of their over all sales, and there’s plenty of companies who don’t really care about government sales and so wouldn’t be pressured at all.

This doesn’t even begin to take into account that there’s a huge number of guns that are hugely popular with private citizens but almost never purchased by government buyers — how many governments purchase imported AK clones? Saiga shotguns? Ruger Mini-14s (yes, I know they’re reasonably popular with officers in jails/prisons, but you rarely see police using them outside of that context)? How many agencies buy Kel-Tec rifles, Kahr pistols, M1As, or any of the zillions of other products that anti-gun people would restrict if they could?

Of course, the strategy doesn’t take into account the fact that the government is a purchaser of items, not a manufacturer. If the large manufacturers decided to stop selling their products to the government (Barrett was the first major company I can recall that did this, and now there’s quite a few other companies who refuse to sell guns or accessories to governments in states that infringe the rights of private citizens). I think it’s more plausible that gun companies would band together and refuse to sell or service products to governments that infringe the rights of their citizens (thus applying leverage to change policy for the better) than for governments to use their relatively minor purchasing power to influence gun companies.

As always, I welcome the thoughts and comments of readers.

Why is it always SF?

A few of the blogs I read have mentioned this epic smackdown, in which an actual SF soldier smacks down a wannabe.

Why is it that all the wannabes always claim to be Special Forces, Rangers, Marine Recon, snipers, or some other “elite” subset of the military? They’re never humvee mechanics, radio repairmen, or the like.

Sure, I was in the military. I drove tanks. I needed a break from the hum-drum life of fixing computers and twiddling around in college without knowing what I wanted to do with life, and tanks seemed to be sufficiently different to interest me. I accomplished exactly zero acts of valor in my service, and managed to avoid any dishonorable deeds. I did my job, kept my head down, and stayed out of trouble. When my unit was training up to deploy to Iraq, a medical issue developed1 that prevented me from deploying. The army and I agreed that, due to this medical issue, it wasn’t in our mutual best interests for me to stay in, and I was discharged2.

After I got out, I went back to college, got my degree, got a job, got married, and am looking to go to grad school (after which I’ll probably end up in a lab for the rest of my life, which is just fine with me). Not terribly exciting, which is why I suppose most of these poseurs never claim to be a lowly PFC who drove tanks around for a few years.

  1. Bones in my feet started making fun happy grinding sounds. []
  2. Honorably, for what it’s worth, though I don’t really think I did anything that justifies such a lofty adjective. []

How Not to Fight

Evidently a small band of Afghan insurgents decided to attack Kandahar Airfield, a military base of about 20,000 people. The Vancouver Sun has more details.

Their dastardly plot consisted of having one of their team sneak behind a nearby tractor, then dart towards the perimeter fence. Upon reaching the fence, he blew himself up, destroying “about $70 worth of fence”, according to Maj. Josh Major1 of the Canadian military.

The other insurgents ran through the gap in the fence, and were killed “immediately” by 25mm autocannon2 fire. None survived.

Even if they had managed to get inside the perimeter fence, they were merely a small group of 8-10, in a base of 20,000+ soldiers with a whole lot of whoopass on tap. That would have ended poorly.

Honestly, what were they thinking? Who thinks that attacking a major military airbase with a ragtag band of irregulars is a good idea?

  1. Yes, his name is Major Major. Really. []
  2. Ow. []

Mixed Feelings

I’ve got mixed feelings on Wikileaks, particularly when it comes to ongoing military action.

On one hand, Wikileaks seeks to bring unethical behavior by governments and corporations to light. I respect and support this.

On the other hand, there’s some information that should not be published, such as information detailing or identifying sources, as it can put people at great risk. I think that such information should have been redacted to protect the innocent. In addition, there’s the ethical issue of the whistleblower breaking an oath to reveal classified information to the public. Where does one draw the line?

Hopefully he made the right choice, and innocent people are not harmed as a result. I can only hope that I never face such a dilemma.

Choice of the Special Forces?

It seems like every gun-related product is “the preferred choice of US Special Forces” or “used by US Special Forces”, but never have any citations for those claims. Many of the claims seem to be mutually exclusive (e.g. Company A advertises that their product is preferred by SF, while Company B makes the same claim about their product).

I wonder where one could actually find quantitative data listing precisely what products are indeed used by Special Forces and, out of those used by SF, which are preferred.

Old Ironsides’ Cannons

The USS Constitution is the nation’s oldest commissioned warship that’s still afloat.

While admittedly a bit of a tourist magnet, the ship is soaked in history (and whatever else happens to be floating around).

One of those bits of history is that the ship fires a cannon at 8am and at sunset.

Now, some of the nearby neighbors are complaining, and want to either have the firing stopped or the charges reduced. While I can see their point1, the ship has been there for longer than they have, and while they can ask that the ship accommodate their wishes (free speech and all), they have no real standing; the ship was there first.

As a commenter on Fark said, “Perhaps they should stop firing blanks.”

  1. My apartment complex has gardeners come by with gas-powered leaf blowers every weekend at 7am and they love to sit outside my window with the motors running. []
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