Editorial: U.S. is right to apply standards to gun industry

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 - 1:19 pm | Page 12A

National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the solution to gun violence is to enforce gun laws currently on the books. Really.

The NRA won't even support robust background checks for all gun sales or a limit on high-capacity ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, measures Americans overwhelmingly support.

Joe Scarborough, former Republican member of Congress representing Florida and current host of "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, revealed what this is really about: "This is not about protecting the Second Amendment. This is about gun manufacturers making millions and millions and millions of dollars. This is about retailers making millions and millions and millions of dollars."

Just what is the gun industry afraid of? Its customer base is dwindling. The share of U.S. households with a gun in the home has dropped from its peak of 54 percent in 1977 to 32 percent in 2010, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

So growth has depended on ever-more sales to the shrinking pool. The United States has 270 million to 314 million private firearms, according to estimates by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other experts. That means each gun-owning household, on average, has seven or eight guns.

For those who already have a revolver for self defense, a bolt-action rifle for deer hunting, a shotgun for waterfowl hunting and guns for target shooting, the gun industry has to think of new marketing ploys to get them to buy more.

Since fully automatic military assault weapons have long been banned for civilian use, the gun industry promotes semiautomatic civilian variants of rifles and pistols. Advertising slogans tout the likeness: "Built for them, built for you"; "As close as you can get without enlisting"; "The semiauto version of the U.S. Special Operations Command's newest service rifle."

Manufacturers have been deliberate in going after U.S. military and law enforcement gun contracts as a way to tap into the civilian market.

Glock is an example. "It was a conscious decision to go after the law enforcement market," Gaston Glock told Advertising Age in 1995. "In marketing terms, we assumed that, by pursuing the law enforcement market, we would then receive the benefits of 'after sales' in the commercial market."

That explains NRA and gun industry opposition to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill that would reinstate, and close loopholes in, the 1994-2004 ban on military-style semiautomatic assault weapons and the ban on large-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds.

Whether or not we get that change in law, federal, state and local governments that have lucrative gun contracts should use their leverage to insist on conditions for gun and ammunition manufacturers getting those contracts, to bring about meaningful reforms in the way the industry does business.

The debate, contrary to LaPierre's whining, is not at all about targeting law-abiding gun owners. It is about setting standards for the gun industry, from responsible gun design to responsible gun sales.

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