Chapter 7. Supply
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Chapter 7  Supply The ultimate fact is that the gun industry is simply a business, and nothing more. It is neither a national trust nor a repository of American values. —T. Diaz In a gun’s life span, four main opportunities exist for legal interventions or regulations to be imposed: (1) the time of manufacture; (2) the time of sale; (3) the period of possession or carrying; and (4) the period of use (Baker, Teret, and Dietz 1980). A comprehensive policy approach to reducing gun injuries includes sensible regulations concerning all four of these periods, but most regulatory resources have gone into the latter two time periods. This chapter examines the first two: the time of manufacture and the time of sale. Put another way, many individuals and institutions can help reduce the problems caused by firearms; this chapter examines two such groups—the manufacturers and the sellers (both licensed and unregulated) of these weapons. Manufacturers The gun industry is a business, making a consumer product, but the product is more lethal and its manufacture less regulated than that of almost any other consumer product. Sleepwear, toys, automobiles, vitamins—virtually all products—are subject to oversight by the Consumer Product Safety Commission , the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and other national regulatory agencies. The actions of these agencies have helped lead to a marked decrease in injuries and deaths in the United States. But guns and ammunition are largely free of such federal safety and health regulation. Surprisingly little is known about the companies that manufacture most guns for the U.S. market. All but one of the major domestic manufacturers 130 supply 131 (Sturm, Ruger, and Company) are privately held companies. A number of other major domestic manufacturers are subsidiaries of foreign companies, like Beretta (Italy), Browning (Japan), and Smith and Wesson (England). Imports are a major component of the U.S. market. Almost all the manufacturers “vigorously conceal information that most other U.S. industries routinely reveal” (Diaz 1999, xvii). Neither Congress nor any other national authority has ever comprehensively examined the firearms industry. The ownership, sales, and profits of these firms are not publicly available. The number of guns sold, by caliber or by product line, is a closely held secret. The wholesale value of all firearms and ammunition manufactured in the United States was estimated at $1.7 billion in 1995; the retail value of all firearms sold, including imports, was about $9 billion (Diaz 1999). To put this in perspective, the retail value of alcohol sold in the United States in 1995 was $80 billion, and new car dealership sales were about $500 billion. Because nearly all of the major manufacturers are privately held and shrouded in secrecy, little is publicly known about their revenues, profits, lobbying, or inner workings. But for at least a decade, the domestic firearms market, while highly cyclical, has been in a slow retreat, largely because of a decline in hunting. U.S. gun production peaked at 5.7 million guns in 1980; it averaged around 4 million units annually between 1995 and 1997, the most recent years for which federal data are available. “We are a mature industry and we are fighting for a very finite amount of business,” explained one CEO. (Business Week 1999, 67) More importantly for injury prevention, the health and safety records of these companies’ products are not available. Like most firms, gun manufacturers are primarily interested in sales and profits. A problem for the industry is that, given reasonable care, guns last a very long time. In the past few decades, with fewer young people growing up into the markets for traditional hunting and sport shooting, the industry has tried to convince people that they need new guns. They succeeded, to some extent, through innovation and fear-inducing advertising. Instead of innovating in the direction of safety (e.g., childproof guns) the industry has developed weapons with greater lethality. Manufacturers have made guns that hold more rounds, increased the power of the rounds and the speed with which the bullets can be shot, and made guns smaller and more concealable (Diaz 1999). These changes all increased the public health risk from firearms. Ammunition and accessories with “Rambo” appeal—bipods, flash suppressors , grenade launchers, laser sights, and expanding bullets—have been increasingly offered to civilians. Ammunition has come on the market with such names as Eliminator-X, Ultra-Mag, Black Talon (whose razorlike talons can tear protective gloves, exposing surgeons...