Been Here, Done That
But Obama's new gun proposals draw fire at SHOT Show
A crowd at the SHOT Show watches Obama's address.
LAS VEGAS — That recent two-word curse Rep. John Boehner directed at Sen. Harry Reid during the fiscal cliff negotiations was repeated en masse Wednesday on the main floor of the SHOT Show. No, those particular words weren't shouted in refrain to President Barack Obama's message. But neither are they a gross exaggeration of the reaction.
This group is upset. A perceived restriction of constitutional rights coupled with a threat to your economic survival smacks a powerful one-two punch.
President Obama's address on proposed gun safety laws was streamed live on a football stadium-size video screen above main showroom floor, where representatives of the gun industry are gathered for the 35th annual trade show.
You didn't have to take many steps in the 12.5 miles of aisles at the Sands Expo and Convention Center to hear the vitriol in reaction to the President's words.
History, however, probably deserves more attention now than any reactions from today. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," as American philosopher George Santayana once said.
With the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004, as the primary history lesson here, the latest proposals from the White House are more likely to stimulate the gun industry than stifle it. While the President offered some ideas previously untried, the assault weapons ban and magazine restrictions? Been there, done that.
A Tuesday conversation with Jim Drager, head of business development at Mission Arms Group, proved even more enlightening after the President's address than it had the day before. In the calm before the storm, Drager offered his thoughts on what might be coming.
"The more they try to restrict these guns, the more people want them," Drager said. "That's just the facts, not opinion. Before that (1994 ban), some of these guns were kind of viewed as an extremist weapon. But people said, 'Hey, nobody is going to tell me I can't have these,' so they started buying them.
"A lot of the mystique of them being 'assault weapons' just went away. It's just another gun, and people like them."
The 1994 law defined an assault weapon, listing several models of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns specifically, plus the features of any new models that would fall under this ban. The law listed various combinations of pistol grips, extended magazines, telescoping stocks, etc., that would provide the legal description of an "assault weapon." Detachable magazine size was limited to 10 rounds.
"As tough as the law sounded, the ban was laughably easy to evade in practice," wrote Paul M. Barrett wrote in his 2012 book Glock: The Rise of America's Gun.
Yes, manufacturers had to adjust the cosmetics of some guns to avoid the ban. But no matter how hard anyone tries, there's no simple definition for an assault rifle.
"The true definition of an assault gun lies in how you use it," Drager said. "If you look at the Old West, they did a heck of a lot of damage with a double-barreled shotgun. Any firearm can be used as an assault weapon in a broad definition of it."
It's important to remember that most of today's deer-hunting rifles are adaptations of firearms U.S. servicemen first used in various wars. One of the most popular pistols in America now remains a version of the Colt 1911 designed by John Browning in 1907. (The "1911" refers to the year when the U.S. military officially adopted it prior to World War I.)
As for that proposed magazine restriction of 10 rounds, it sounded like a good idea to some when it was included in the 1994 federal law. But all it accomplished was the creation of another niche in the gun market.
You could hear history repeating itself simply by standing in line to check in at a Las Vegas hotel Sunday. In a conversion with someone from a high-capacity magazine manufacturer, she told of sending 100,000 clips to a particular tradeshow recently and leaving with unfulfilled orders for another 245,000. Simply the hint of firearms restrictions after the Newtown, Conn., school tragedy sent America's gun-owners reaching deep into their wallets.
The magazine restriction is undoubtedly well-intentioned, based on recent shooting tragedies involving 30-round magazines. But its effects are limited.
"What's the difference in that and someone that can drop out one 10-round magazine and put in another and another," Drager said. "Or four eights or whatever? You're still talking about milliseconds."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new gun law Wednesday that limits magazine capacity to seven, creating yet another niche in the market and accelerating demand for the higher capacity clips, where still available.
The 1994 ban had a 10-year life, long enough for its effects to have been studied in detail by various entities. Most of the research came to the same conclusion as a 2004 U.S. Department of Justice report, which stated that rifles in general, including "assault weapons" are rarely used in gun crimes.
In face of the recent horrors in Newtown and at the Colorado movie theatre, it's only basic human values that produce an effort to do something – anything – to prevent future tragedies like this. And maybe, with a more detailed examination of the wide-ranging proposals made by the President, some of the good intentions will produce results.
"We're putting our emphasis on the wrong things," said Drager, again, a day prior to Wednesday's specifics. "It's only an illusion of accomplishment. People that shouldn't own guns shouldn't be allowed to. Those laws are already on the books.
"If (a gun restriction) has any effect, it will make the market even stronger."
Exactly. Those market forces are already in display. The industry will survive and adapt, like any strong one in a rapidly changing world. The gun industry's ultimate reply to the President will probably be "thank you," rather than the opposite.
But nobody was saying anything like that here Wednesday.