About once a month, Dave Kopel produces a free e-mail Newsletter containing short summaries and links to important new research and writing involving the Second Amendment and firearms policy. The newsletter also reports on Kopel's latest writing.
The content of this newsletter is produced by the Second Amendment Project at the Independence Institute, a think tank in Golden, Colorado. The newsletter is electronically distributed by the Second Amendment Foundation in Bellevue, Washington. Thus, the Second Amendment Foundation will be given your e-mail address.
Archive of past issues.
The Second Amendment Project is based at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.
[Note: This issue was scheduled to be sent out during
the week of Feb. 21, but it is being sent early, because
of the breaking news about the Colorado legislature.
On Feb. 18, 2000, the last of the three anti-gun bills
(of the five in the Owens/Salazar agenda) was defeated. Here
are the results on each item.
1. Ban straw purchases. Has passed unanimously through
two House Committees, and is expected to become law.
Supported by most Colorado groups which support the
2. Open up juvenile records for background checks. Ditto.
3. Ban handgun purchases by 18-20 year olds at gun shows.
Defeated 11-2 in House State Affairs. Gov. Owens claims
to be satisfied with another bill, which simply
copies federal law banning FFL sales of handguns to
under-21 and long guns to under-18.
4. Mandate "safe storage." Defeated in Senate Judiciary (4-4)
and (narrower bill) in House Judiciary (6-6). Gov. Owens claims
to be satisfied with alternative bill which strengthens
existing Colorado law against intentionally giving
handguns to minors (with certain exceptions, such
as for us in sports or home defense).
5. Require Colorado Bureau of Investigation of background checks
for private sales at gun shows. Passed House Judiciary 7-6.
Defeated in House Appropriations Committee 6-7, Feb. 18.
In addition, the following bills, which are supported (or
not opposed) by most Colorado Second Amendment groups, are
expected to become law:
* banning transfers of guns to minors without parental consent.
* setting up the Colorado Bureau of Investigation as the
point of contact for the federal instant background check.
* increasing penalties for gun possession by persons
with criminal convictions.
b. "Save Me from Myself." Beth Skinner discusses Robyn
Anderson, the gun moll for the Columbine murderers, who
bas become the new darling of the gun prohibition lobbies.
c. "Shooting the Shooters: A Different Kind of Gun Control."
By Jeff Kamen, APB News, Sept. 24, 1999.
The best way to prevent mass murders is to make sure that
the victims can resist.
Through the summer of 1997, the owners of large-calibre
handguns in Britain were forced to surrender their guns
to the government. During February of 1998, owners of
small-calibre handguns were compelled to do the same.
The day before this "hand-in" concluded, junior Home
Office Minister Alan Michael preened that Britain was
now free of civilian handguns. "I believe (the hand-in)
has put a firm brake on the development of a dangerous
gun culture in the UK."
Of course, it had done nothing of the sort. The truly
dangerous gun culture in the UK - the criminal gun
culture - wasn't affected a whit.
Michael primped that "a total ban reduces (the)
risk...(of) legally held handguns falling into the
wrong hands." While perhaps true in some completely
theoretical, other-worldly sense, this is entirely
What matters to public safety is that no drug dealer,
no mob enforcer, not even a single armed robber was
denied a gun by the hand-in. The confiscation may
have prevented criminals from stealing the tools of their
trade, but it hardly made it impossible for them
to acquire guns.
Last Sunday, the Times of London revealed just how
available guns are to criminals. "Up to 3 million
illegal guns are in circulation in Britain," the
Times reported, which has led to a startling rise
"in drive-by shootings and gangland-style executions,"
as well as more mundane gun crimes such as corner
store hold-ups and muggings.
In the first year after the surrender of civilian
handguns, armed crime in Britain rose 10 per cent.
It went up, not down.
And just as important, its composition is changing.
Where as in the early 1990s, one-third of gun murders
in Britain were committed with handguns, now nearly
two-thirds are. (There has been a similar change in
Canada, too. Handguns were used until recently in
about one-third of murders, but are now used in
nearly 60 per cent.)
A buy-back of firearms in Australia the same year
had the same effect as Britain's hand-in: Gun crimes
soared in the 12 months that followed, including in
categories of crime that had been declining for two
The most drastic gun control possible - outright
confiscation - could not reduce crime or improve
public safety, as its advocates had promised,
because, as gun owners had predicted, criminals
refused to participate in it. Indeed, the controls
might even have emboldened criminals to
commit more crimes. Why not? If they could count on
their victims being unarmed, the risk inherent in
their "work" went down while the potential rewards
Has any of this deterred Britain's anti-gun
politicians or special interest groups? Of
course not. There was never any logic in their
arguments, just a black mix of snobbery, ignorance,
emotion, fear and irrationality. So they
certainly are not going to be deflected by a few
inconvenient facts - or a few thousand.
Britain's anti-gun activists are now claiming
the confiscation was never about reducing crime.
In the Times piece on Sunday, unnamed Home Office
officials insisted the hand-in was always only
about but making Britain's homes safer and keeping
stolen handguns from making their way onto the streets.
Despite reams of newsprint full of earlier assurances
from them that the hand-in would significantly reduce
murder, assault, robbery, and so on, the anti-gunners
in and outside the British government,
like some minor functionaries at Orwell's Ministry
of Truth, have wiped clean their memories of any
The same is happening in Canada. As the cost of
a national registry of all firearms has cycloned
out of sight, and as registration has fallen
further and further behind, the Liberal government
has talked less and less about reducing crime,
more and more about creating "a culture of safety."
If total confiscation of firearms cannot cut crime,
what possible use will a registry be?
Even the one "fact" the Liberals cling to prove
their registry's worth turns out to be, shall
we say, less than the full picture.
For months now, the Liberals have boasted that
their registry has in one year refused more
firearms licenses than the pre-registry
licensing system did in previous five years.
It's simply not so.
Robert Paddon of the BC Wildlife Federation
recently scoured the five RCMP annual firearms
reports for the period involved, and found 2,326
licenses had been refused then versus the 578
the Liberals claim to have rejected in 1999.
Moreover, not only had more licenses been rejected,
they had been rejected at a rate almost three
times higher than under the current registry;
eight out of every 1,000 versus just
three out of 1,000 under the new registry.
If, as the Liberals insist, license rejections
make Canada safer, then their registry is making
the country less safe, not more.
Lorne Gunter, Columnist
The Edmonton Journal
P.O. Box 2421
Edmonton AB CANADA
Making a Killing may be the most influential anti-gun
book ever written.
Tom Diaz's book could not have been better timed
to mesh with the wave of lawsuits against gun companies.
Many of the claims in the suits closely resemble charges
against the gun industry which Diaz presents. Moreover,
the book will help shape public opinion about the gun
issue in general, and gun companies in particular,
thereby somewhat reducing the prospect that state
legislatures or Congress will enact legislation
to prohibit the suits.
This book will also be of interest to persons who
do not care about the gun issue. First of all,
Making a Killing is the first book to analyze
the American firearms industry. All of the previous
books about gun manufacturing have been about a
single company (e.g., Winchester) and its products,
and these books tend to focus of the evolution of
firearms design, rather than on the business decisions
faced by the leaders of the companies. Just as studies
of the automobile industry are useful to people who
want to study industrial behavior (rather than to
study car design) Making a Killing may be useful
to readers who want to investigate the business
of manufacturing consumer products. In particular,
the book offers an interesting analysis of what a
consumer product industry does when it finds that
many of the people who want to own the product
already own the product. (More on this below.)
Second, this book should be of interest of political
scientists (including those who not care about
firearms policy) as an example of changing styles
of political rhetoric. In particular, the book
represents an important step forward in the tactics
of gun control advocates. In the past, the debate has
been over "gun control"-a term which resonates
very negatively with a large segment of the voting
public. Americans do not like being "controlled."
The "gun control" debate has been about restrictions
on gun possession by law-abiding citizens, with the
hope that these restrictions can reduce criminal
misuse of guns, or prevent the law-abiding citizens
from misusing guns. Yet the very terms of the debate
put gun prohibition advocates such as Diaz at a
disadvantage, since the debate serves to remind
the public that gun crime is caused by gun criminals.
Moreover, the fundamental premise of the gun control
movement--that the average American citizen
lacks the emotional stability, maturity, and
intelligence to possess a handgun and to use
it for personal protection--has not proven very
popular with the average American citizen
Thus, in recent years, advocates of gun prohibition
have begun to shift the emphasis of the debate away
from gun criminals, and onto "protecting the children."
Since children are generally deemed not to be responsible
enough to take care of themselves, the rhetorical shift
to children provides a gentler basis to promote the same
kinds of controls which were being advocated anyway;
but now the rhetoric does not implicitly denigrate
the average American adult. The slogan "15 children
a day are kill by guns" is quite powerful, and few
people who hear the slogan will ever find out that
those "15 children a day" do not comprise even one
actual child (age 14 or under) killed in gun accidents,
or that the largest group of the "15 children a day"
are adult criminals (aged 18 to 20) who are killed
by other criminals, especially in gang conflict.
When language about "the children" is coupled with
"gun safety" (even people who do not like "control"
do like "safety," especially safety for children),
the tactical advantage becomes all the greater.
In Making a Killing, Tom Diaz opens a new front in
the gun control war. Again, the effect is to change
the rhetorical target of proposed gun controls, and
make them appear more palatable to the average American.
It has proven politically impossible to sell handgun
prohibition by saying, "Individual Americans are
not capable of owning handguns responsibly, and
therefore the government should confiscate handguns."
This language offends even people who do not own
handguns, but who think that they would be capable
of owning a handgun responsibly.
The result of Diaz's book is to change the main
thrust of the language about who will be punished
by the proposed law: "Gun manufacturers are evil
and therefore the government should regulate their
products." The legal result is the same (handgun
confiscation), but the latter formulation sounds
offensive only to people who work for gun companies,
rather than to Americans in general.
The largest audience for Making a Killing is, of
course, people who are interested in gun policy.
The book presents a great deal of information about
the firearms industry, some of which will be new
even to people who have followed the firearms
issue for years. The reason that new information
can be found in the book is not (contrary to Diaz's
claims) that the gun industry is secretive and sinister.
Rather Diaz is simply the first author to have
addressed the topic at length; virtually all his
sources are in the public domain.
Making a Killing presents what Diaz considers to be
an expose of the sins of the firearms business. Some
of these sins are only sinful in the sense that every
participant in a free-market economy is (by some
philosophies) guilty of sin.
Diaz berates the gun companies for being motivated
by profits, and for trying to sell more and more guns.
This is a criticism that could be hurled at any business
which sells products.
That people who work for gun companies want to make money
does not make them immoral. Diaz himself works for a gun
prohibition company (the Violence Policy Center) which
pays his salary to promote a particular set of policies.
And either Diaz or his employer makes more money with
every additional copy of his book which is sold. (That
the public does not know all the details about Diaz's
book contract does not mean that either the book industry
or the gun prohibition industry is "secretive.") That Diaz
and his employer have a profit motive does not make their
work immoral. If the policies which Diaz is selling are good
policies, they do not become bad policies simply because
Diaz makes a profit from selling them. Likewise, if firearms
are a legitimate consumer product (and American law very
clearly says that they are), then making a profit by making
guns is not immoral.
Besides, Diaz greatly exaggerates the profitability of
the American firearms industry. He asserts that the
firearms industry enjoys "incredible profitability"
but he provides no serious evidence for this claim.
Instead, he shows that Bill Ruger, the founder of
one of America's most successful gun companies, is
personally wealthy, and belongs to some fancy clubs.
Diaz also repeats a 1959 statement by Bill Ruger:
"We have a little moneymaking machine here." Diaz
likes this "moneymaking machine" line so much that
he repeats it three times.
The implication is that the rest of the American gun
business is a profitable as Ruger. But this implication
has no factual basis. To show that one dentist (who,
like Bill Ruger, opened his business 50 years ago) is
personally wealthy is not to prove that the practice
of dentistry is lucrative for all dentists today. Indeed,
Ruger is the only firearms company which is publicly
traded; this fact suggests that the other firearms
companies did not believe that they were profitable
enough to be taken public.
Even for Ruger, Diaz does nothing to analyze its
public financial records (such as 10-Q and 10-K
forms which must be filed with the Securities and
Exchange Commission, and which are available for
free on the Internet) to show that Ruger is any
more profitable than other companies of its size,
or than other sporting goods companies.
And as anyone who knows anything about the firearms
industry knows, the gun companies that are as
financially healthy as Ruger are few and far between.
Colt, the most venerable name in American firearms,
has survived bankruptcy only because of corporate
welfare from the state of Connecticut and from the
federal government. (The federal welfare comes in
the form of research grants to invent a "smart gun"
which can only be fired by its owner. In 1996, Colt
promised that the product would be available in
three years, but as of late 1999, no product is in sight.)
Significantly, lawsuits filed against handgun
companies are predicated on the common knowledge
that hardly any of the companies have enough money
to pay the costs of legal defense in over two dozen
courtrooms. Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, the first
mayor to consider suing the gun companies, frankly
said so in 1998-expressing his hope that the
devastating cost of litigation would force the gun
companies to surrender without ever going to trial.
That is one reason why the gun lawsuits are very
different from the tobacco lawsuits. Three tobacco
companies had over 95% of the U.S. market, and they
could pay attorneys' fees forever with little
difficulty. The uncertain prospect of enormous
jury verdicts made it difficult for to predict
future net profits for the cigarette companies,
and thus lowered the value of cigarette company
stock prices. As the tobacco settlements show,
the cigarette companies are so profitable that
they can give billions and billions and billions
of dollars of revenue to trial lawyers and to
state governments--and the tobacco companies
are still profitable enough to pay stockholder
dividends far above the dividend rate of
In marked contrast, the firearms industry has
so little money that that attorney fees are
already driving companies into bankruptcy. If
the entire firearms business in U.S. were combined
into a single company, that company would still
not qualify for the Fortune 500. For Diaz to
assert--on the basis of little more evidence
than Bill Ruger's lifestyle--that the entire
firearms business is a highly profitable money
machine is ludicrous. It is all the more ludicrous
when Diaz is well aware (as any gun policy
analyst would be) that the lawsuits against
the gun companies are predicated on most of
the companies not having enough money to pay
for lawyers in the long run.
The heart of Making a Killing is an analysis of
changes in the handgun market over recent decades.
As of 1974, the majority of handguns sold in the
U.S. were revolvers. Today, the majority are
self-loading pistols. In conjunction with describing
the change, Diaz also shows how the American
firearms industry, in recent decades, has
attempted to deal with the problem of market
saturation: most men who want to own gun already own a gun.
The firearms industry has responded the way
that any rational industry would: trying to
sell its product who do not currently own the
product; and by trying to sell new products to
people who already do own the product.
Diaz shows how the first strategy (finding new
consumers) has been implemented by trying to
sell firearms to women, and by promoting youth
interest in the shooting sports. (People under
18 cannot buy firearms at retail, but they can
ask family members to buy them long guns as a
gift. Or they can develop an interest in the
shooting sports by using a parent's gun, and
when they become adults, they can continue that
interest and buy their own gun.)
This market expansion is heartily derided by Diaz.
If guns or handguns are per se immoral, then it is
easy to see why promoting gun use by "women and
children" could be immoral. Diaz appears not to
like anything that people do with guns. He bashes
not only self-defense ownership of handguns, but
also sports such as Cowboy Action Shooting. American
shooting ranges which cater to foreign tourists are
criticized for satisfying "gun lust."
If the people who owned gun companies shared Diaz's
view of morality, they would shut the companies down
tomorrow, and donate all revenue to gun prohibition
groups. But it is not fair to condemn the people at
gun companies because they have a different view of
morality than Diaz. If a Priest wrote a book calling
Muslims immoral because Muslims do not receive
communion on weekly basis, we would point out that
Muslims are not expected to live by the Catholic moral
code. People at gun companies like guns, and consider
them socially beneficial. It is hardly immoral for
them to attempt to promote their product to new
users whom the gun companies believe will benefit
from the product. American law very clearly states
that adult women are just as capable of using
dangerous products (such as guns or cars) as are
adult men. And American law very clearly authorizes
gun use-especially hunting and target shooting-by
people under 18, providing the various restrictions
(which very from state to state) are obeyed. It is
unfair to condemn a manufacturer for attempting to
find new, legal customers for the manufacturer's product.
A second way firearms companies have attempted to
deal with market saturation, Diaz shows, is by
trying to sell more guns to people who already
have guns. Here, Diaz complains about the newer
products that have been sold: self-loading pistols
with magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
To Diaz, the shift from revolvers to self-loaders
is a result of pernicious gun industry advertising
which touted "firepower" as the dubious advantage
of the new pistols. Here, Diaz overestimates the
role of advertising. Advertising obviously affects
consumer decisions, or else companies would not
bother to advertise. Whether advertising can create
and sustain demand for a product type which, in the
absence of advertising, consumers would not want,
is questionable. Advertising may provide an initial
boost in sales, but it cannot make consumers continue
to buy a product which they discover to be a bad
product. Otherwise, we would all be driving Edsels.
For product such as firearms, for which purchase
decisions are greatly influenced by word-of-mouth,
and by friends trying friends' guns, it seems
specially doubtful that advertising can move
the market where the market would not otherwise go.
Perhaps the advertising is not the cause of
consumer demand, but rather a reflection of
what consumers want, and what gun companies
therefore attempt to supply. But to acknowledge
this point would be to put the blame for
increased firepower on the consumer, rather
than on the gun manufacturer. And this step
would move the gun debate back to the "gun
control" paradigm, with all the political
perils of criticizing tens of millions of
consumers, rather than criticizing a few
dozen handgun companies.
Despite what Diaz implies, for many decades
gun companies have offered consumers a choice
between revolvers and self-loading pistols.
The self-loading mechanism was invented 1890s.
The best-known American firearms model is the
"Colt .45"-a self-loading handgun which was
first sold in 1911. The "high-capacity" pistol
been available to consumers at least since the
1935, with the introduction of the 13 shot
Browning Hi Power. Diaz adverts to both the
Colt and the Browning, but never addresses
the contradiction they pose to his theory.
Before the 1980s, in that allegedly golden era
when revolvers outsold self-loading pistols,
firearms manufacturers worked just as hard to
sell as many revolvers and pistols as they
could. That the companies sold more shotguns
or revolvers than pistols was the simple result
of consumers being more interested in shotguns
and revolvers. Changes in consumer preferences
1959 to 1999 are the result of consumer decisions,
not of changes forced on consumers by gun companies.
Almost all self-loading pistols have a safety,
which must be turned off before the gun is fired.
Hardly any revolvers have a safety. To load a
pistol, one must pull back on the gun's slide,
and then release the slide, in order to load
the first bullet in the firing chamber. As a
result, a self-loading pistol is less likely
to be accidentally misused by young child than
is a revolver: he may not even know how to
disengage the safety and pull the slide.
Even if the child does know, he may not have the
physical strength to pull the slide. (The slide
pull requires much more strength than does
pressing the trigger.) To whatever degree
(if any) the gun industry rather than gun
consumers is responsible for the shift from
revolvers to pistols, a balanced account of
industry ought to at least mention the
superior safety characteristics of pistols.
Along with the complaints about an industry-driven
shift in handgun type is a complaint about a trend
to more powerful ammunition. This is nonsense,
and undercuts Diaz's claim to be a former "gun
nut." The most popular type of ammunition for
modem self-loaders is 9mm. This ammunition is
not new (it was invented in 1895 George Luger),
and it is not bigger than revolver ammunition.
In fact, 9mm happens to be the same size as
ammunition for the "old-fashioned" .38 Special
revolver. The most powerful handgun caliber in
common use is the .44 magnum, which is for
revolvers, not pistols. (Diaz also mistakenly
writes "9mm" as "9-mm" or as "9 mm", and cannot
make up his mind about whether to put a period
before calibers such as ".38". These errors
are trivial in themselves, but are rather startling
from someone who is supposedly a former "gun nut.")
Goldilocks thought some porridge was too hot,
while other porridge was too cold. Diaz calls
the gun industry evil for selling guns that are
too big, and for selling guns too are too small.
There have been increased sales of small guns
in the 1990s. But consumers who want small guns
have had them available since 1852, when Henry
Deringer patented his first gun. Indeed, "Derringer"
became a generic (and misspelled) named for literally
hundreds of brands of small handguns, which achieved
mass consumer popularity as urban defense weapons
in the 1880s and 1890s. That sales of these guns
waned, relative to the rest of the handgun market,
between 1890 and 1990 tells us more about consumer
behavior than it does about gun companies forcing
products on consumers. That small handguns in 1999
can fire larger bullets than their 1899 ancestors
tells us only that metallurgy has improved in the
A second cause of increased popularity for small
handguns was President Clinton, who fought for
and won a 1994 crime bill which, among other things,
ban the manufactured if new magazines holding more
than 10rounds. This design restriction inevitably
led gun consumers and gun designers to express
greater interest in handguns which hold 10 rounds
or less. And the lower the ammunition capacity,
the smaller the gun can be. Some companies, such as
Kahr, were introducing new small handgun designs
even before the Clinton crime bill passed, but
the bill unquestionably accelerated a trend in progress.
To compound problems (for people do not like small
handguns), the 1994 crime bill, coupled with other
gun control activities, helped spur a massive backlash
1994 general elections. The result was not only a
Republican-controlled Congress (for which President
Clinton said "the NRA is the reason Republicans
control Congress") but also enormous "pro-gun"
gains in state legislatures and governors mansions.
The tidal wave of legislation that followed in 1995
has given America 31 states where ordinary law-abiding
adult who pass a background check and (in most states)
a safety class, may obtain a permit to carry concealed
handgun for lawful protection. The number of ordinary
citizens who can legally carry handguns now exceeds
the number of police officers in the US. No wonder
small handgun sales are rising.
Even putting aside the surge in handgun carry licensees,
there have always be consumers who have wanted a
concealable handgun for lawful protection on their
own property. Owners of liquor stores, or most other
small businesses have long fit in this category.
Like most professionals in the gun control lobbies,
Diaz nowhere acknowledges the morality of defensive
firearms ownership. If handguns were only for target
shooting or small game hunting, Diaz would be right
to question why concealable firearms should be manufactured
at all. Yet since use of a handgun in self-defense is
legal in all 50 states, it is difficult to see why the
firearms business should be considered evil for selling
products to save lives.
Diaz concludes by calling for a federal agency to be
given the authority to regulate firearms design.
Included in this authority would be the power to
"phase out" handguns, which Diaz has elsewhere said
would eventually mean handgun confiscation with
compensation paid to the owners. This section of the
book would be stronger if it addressed some of the
potential problems with the proposal. Even if we skip
over the constitutional objections, what about the
tremendous enforcement and black market problems?
The federal government once outlawed alcohol, and now
outlaws various drugs, in the name of consumer safety.
Whatever one thinks about the cost/benefit result of
these prohibitions, the costs (both in dollars and
in diminished constitutional rights-particularly
Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights) have been enormous.
At least a short discussion of the similar costs
which would arise from handguns prohibition would
be in order.
Making a Killing is already making a major contribution
to the American gun policy debate. One indicator of the
book's significance can be found the Amazon.com website,
were there are 21 customer reviews of the book. With a
single exception, every reviewer gives book the highest
possible rating or the lowest possible rating. This
suggests the book will be enjoyed by people already
share Diaz's premise about the immorality of making
guns and selling them to people who want to defend
themselves; one such reader calls the book "An
astonishing picture of depraved indifference that
will leave you gape-mouthed." The book will not be
convincing to readers who do not start with Diaz's
premises, particularly if the readers have some
independent knowledge of firearms, firearms policy,
or the firearms business.
I must be part of a tiny minority, but I rate Diaz's
book somewhere in-between. The self-righteous moral
indignation (based upon moral principles that are
very far from universal) detracts from the book, as
does Diaz's unwillingness to say anything positive
about the firearms industry, and his insistence on
imputing wicked motives to everything the industry
does. It is unfortunate that the rhetoric of moral
panic has been overlaid on a great deal of serious
research about an important American business.
That's all folks!