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.

Sierra Bullets: shutdown of the Doe Run lead smelter shouldn’t affect ammo supply

The recent shutdown of the Doe Run primary lead smelter has some people wondering what effect this might have on lead supply for bulletmakers. Sierra Bullets issued the following statement, which I’ve quoted in part:

First, Sierra buys lead from several different vendors to maintain constant supply.? Second, this facility only smelts primary lead or lead ore.? This is lead ore that has just been brought out of the earth.? Sierra uses no primary lead at all and never has, so we use nothing directly from this facility.? The lead we buy from Doe Run comes from their recycling facility in Boss, MO that is about 90 miles away from the smelter that is closing.
The facility we buy from is still going strong and delivering to us as scheduled.? The lead from this facility is from recycled lead, mostly coming from car batteries.
Our supply should not be in jeopardy and we do not anticipate any changes in our supply chain at this time.? Could the lack of primary lead create a little more demand for recycled lead?? Sure, but how much is unknown.? Could this increase in demand also create an increase in price?? Sure, but again, by how much is unknown at this time.

Emphasis mine. Hat tip to No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money: Sierra Bullets On The Shutdown Of The Herculaneum MO Lead Smelter.
Edit (2013-06-11): I mis-spelled “Sierra” in the title. This has been corrected.

The Capacity Question

Tim over at Gun Nuts Media has a great piece on why capacity matters.
Read the whole thing. It has gems like:

We do not know what it will take to actually stop a violent attacker. People often make the mistake of believing that somehow a gunfight or a shooting is going to happen on their terms. Think logically about that for a second: We?re talking about a situation which has spun so far out of control that your last option to resolve it without ending up in a wheelchair or a body bag is to aim a firearm at another human being and shoot them.


We?ve discussed expressing capacity as time, but here it?s important that we also see capacity as opportunity. More opportunity to make a tough shot against a hostile moving and using cover. More opportunity to get a fight-stopping round on target, ending the bad guy?s hostile actions. More opportunity to win. When the bullets are going both ways, more opportunities to fire at the threat is always superior to fewer ones.

(Emphasis in original, but in italics. Changed here to bold for clarity since WordPress’ “blockquote” feature italicize all the quoted text.)

MDA not interested in gun deaths, suicide prevention — only banning guns

A few days ago the Twitter user @deborahdouhner tried making some in-roads with Moms Demand Action and its founder, Shannon Watts. You can read about their story here.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that Ms. Watts and MDA really don’t care about reducing violent crime or suicides (which account for 61% of all gun deaths). Rather, they only care about getting rid of guns.
Ms. Watts isn’t some random person who supports gun control; she is the founder of a new anti-gun group that’s been getting a little bit of media attention. I think it’d be fair to say that she reasonably represents the aims of the group: neither she nor MDA are interested in reducing deaths, nor working toward any sort of compromise — they simply want to ban guns.
This should be clear from their website, where they list their objectives:

  1. Require background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases;
  2. Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds;
  3. Track the sale of large quantities of ammunition, and ban online sales;
  4. Establish product safety oversight of guns and ammunition, and require child-safe gun technology;
  5. Support policies at companies and public institutions that promote gun safety;
  6. Counter the gun industry?s efforts to weaken gun laws at the state level.

Those points have been the objective of extremist groups like the Brady Campaign for decades. There simply is no “middle ground” or compromise with these groups. They must be opposed at every step.
Hat tip to mike, a commenter at SNBQ. The linked-to post at SNBQ is also quite telling: it turns out that Ms. Watts defines an “assault weapon” as any gun that can fire 10 shots per minute — that includes essentially every gun except muzzleloaders. Even lever-action guns and single-shot shotguns can fire more than 10 shots per minute.

Keep Up the Pressure

According to a public blog post by Moms Demand Action (I will not link there), “the other side” (i.e, pro-gun people) are calling their politicians regarding gun issues more than 5x as often as the anti-gun people, even though MDA claims there are “more of [anti-gun people]”.
Excellent. Even though things are pretty quiet right now, keep up the pressure. It’s easy to call your legislators and express your opinion. Writing a letter can also be effective. Keep things short, polite, and to the point, but take a few minutes a week to call or write and make your opinion known.

How to do Rifle Open Carry Right

The New York Times reports on a rifle open carry event in San Antonio, Texas.
As I’ve said before, I’m not so keen on rifle open carry, but this seemed to be pretty reasonable: it was an organized, coordinated event (not just random guys showing up at a coffee shop), they’re using rifle open carry as a means to an end (in Texas, open carry of a long gun is legal but open carry of a handgun is not — they’re looking to change the law regarding handguns), people are well-dressed, polite, and not being idiots.
Well done.

Pez Dispensers

In reading an online discussion relating to guns today, I stumbled across an analogy that I thought can get the point across quite well: magazines are about as complex as Pez dispensers. That is, not very complex at all.
Rather than focus on restricting Pez dispensers in an effort to reduce violent crime, we (meaning “society as a whole”) should focus on things that might actually have a meaningful effect.

California gun control update: mixed Results, overall not bad

The LA Times reports on CA Gov. Brown’s recent decisions on gun control bills.
In brief,

  • The AWB expansion that would ban all semi-auto rifles with detachable mags was vetoed. From the Times:

    The ban on rifles with detachable magazines goes too far, he said in a veto message, because it would outlaw the sale of guns used by hunters and marksmen.
    ?I don?t believe that this bill?s blanket ban on semiautomatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners? rights,? Brown said.

  • Lead ammo will be illegal for hunting starting in July 2019, giving hunters and manufacturers time to switch to non-lead ammo for hunting purposes. (My understanding is that the restriction only applies to hunting, not shooting at ranges.)
  • Gun ownership will be prohibited to people who make serious threats to psychoanalysis.
  • The state’s “handgun safety certificate” (answer 10 questions at the gun shop and they give you a card good for 5 years that says you can buy handguns) will now also be required for long guns.

The NRA-ILA has more details here. They have links to the governor’s veto statements, which make for interesting reading.
In short: the results are somewhat mixed, but they could have turned out a lot worse. Considering this is California, I’m generally pleased with the results — there were a few things, like the safety certificate, which are effectively minor infringements on our rights but no more so than the NICS check that also takes place at a dealer (the 10-day waiting period in California is much more onerous), but the obnoxious, major infringements were stopped and the governor put, in writing, that the ban on semi-auto rifles would infringe on people’s rights.
That’s pretty good.