The Potowmack Institute
Potowmack Institute, amicus curiae
US v. Emerson, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 99-10331
1. Ron Stewart, CEO, Colt Manufacturing, American Firearms Industry, December 1997
2. "Bellesiles lays blame for U.S. gun culture at the feet of Samuel Colt," Emory Report November 3, 1997
There is much activity in court to sue gun manufacturers. The gun manufacturers are part of the problem of gun violence and have a reprehensible record. Gun manufacturers are also part of the solution. Gun manufacturers are businesses which have to function in a well-defined legal environment. To create a well-defined legal environment for themselves they have to separate themselves from the armed populace ideologies.
1. Ron Stewart, Editorial, American Firearms Industry, 18 December 1997 The trade publication of the gun manufacturers (Ron Stewart is no longer the President of Colt Manufacturing.)
This Month's Guest Editorial by Ron Stewart, CEO and President of Colt's Manufacturing.
Millions of American citizens own firearms. For the most part these citizens enjoy the use of their firearms in a safe and responsible way for hunting, skeet shooting, trap shooting, target shooting and other recreational sports. Over the last few years, however, the "gun control issue" has gained center stage due to the relentless, negative campaign launched by the gun control lobby. They want to put us all out of business, manufacturers, dealers and distributors, and eliminate our Second Amendment rights. Ironically, with the exception of the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban which passed last year, no gun control legislation passed in Congress this year and the much-touted Washington State referendum failed.
Given this recent reprieve one could almost believe the debate has ended and the gun control lobby has been silenced. Unfortunately, a November 20, 1997 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Big Guns in the Media Take Aim Against Firearms" reminds us that the gun control lobby is more determined than ever to put firearms manufacturers out of business, and they are devising new methods to achieve their goals. The reality is that we are about to be hit by a new wave of attacks on our industry and the key battleground is that of public opinion. Failure to address this issue aggressively could be devastating.
The question that begs to be answered is why is the gun industry being so singularly targeted when statistics and public opinion appear to be on our side? In my opinion, the answer is simple: the anti-gun lobby argument focuses on the fact that innocent people, including children, are occasionally the victims of firearms. The gun control lobby has become dangerously adept at using manipulative public relations campaigns and high powered public relations firms to portray the firearms industry as villainous and self-serving.
By contrast, the firearms industry has consistently and arduously taken the lead in advocating and implementing strong measures to improve weapons safety. Despite this fact, we have not been successful in presenting our case to the public. We have allowed ourselves to sit back and ignore the problem, thus becoming part of it. Silence is acceptance. Our responses to the anti-gun lobby are ill-postured, defensive and pathetically inadequate when we accept watered down versions of their agenda and nod our heads in agreement to their publicity stunts while, we as an industry, do abhor the unsafe use of handguns.
It would be a grievous mistake to allow the next wave of attacks by the gun control lobby to back us into a corner and for us to respond as we have in the past. The time has come to take the high ground and pre-empt their next strike. We need to focus on two fronts: advocate programs that promote safe firearm practices and take the lead in developing new technologies to improve firearm safety. Today's reality requires that consumers and industry work together to responsibly address the issue of gun safety.
Given the skillful manipulation of public perception by the anti-gun lobby, we need to rally our large base of support to make certain that our message and, most importantly, our actions, are getting through to the public. To accomplish it I offer the following five courses of action.
(1) The creation of a research and development program to further firearms technology toward more advanced methods that promote safety (such as personalized firearms). While technology such as this should not be mandated it should be an option for the consumer. If we can send a motorized computer to Mars, then certainly we can advance our technology to be more childproof.
(2) The passage of a comprehensive federal firearms law, including the creation of a federal gun permit, that would pre-empt the hodgepodge of existing state laws and local ordinances. I heard several manufacturers complain to the Attorney General in Massachusetts that we already have serial numbers on our firearms so why do we need a second set of serial numbers. If he and the others mandate hidden serial numbers then we would likely have to live with 50 different state regulations. Why not federalize this standard - isn't that a protective measure that prevents illegal ownership of a firearm?
(3) Emphasize responsibility and accountability where it belongs. We ought to give serious consideration to a gun permit requirement that would necessitate each permit holder to undergo thorough firearms training and pass a uniform examinations. The law also should require that dealers qualify as certified firearms instructors and actively participate in training the public concerning the safe the appropriate handling of guns. The distribution chain should embrace this as it should stimulate sales.
(4) We believe that legislative reform should ensue to prohibit the bringing of so called "defectless" product liability cases, such as the Hamilton case, against the firearms industry. We as defendants, need to take the offensive in gun cases, which remedies should include obtaining sanctions against certain plaintiffs for bringing frivolous lawsuits, and, when warranted, seeking redress against those persons failing to safeguard weapons used to cause wrongful injury or death.
(5) The creation of a joint industry committee to study firearms technology and safety mechanisms.
I challenge the industry to respond; to work together and act upon this proposed course of action, NOW.
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2. Emory Report November 3, 1997 Volume 50, No. 11
Bellesiles lays blame for U.S. gun culture at the feet of Samuel Colt
In the second of this year's Great Teachers Lecture Series, history's Michael Bellesiles explained how the gun culture that exists in the United States was spawned in the 19th century by the self-promotion and salesmanship of Samuel Colt.
Speaking Oct. 7 in Cannon Chapel, Bellesiles, an associate professor, said Colt may have been the first of that "great American archetype" of master showman and salesman. "Like P.T. Barnum, Colt manipulated public sensibilities and invented a number of sales techniques still in use. But Colt is far more significant than Barnum-Barnum just entertained America. Colt transformed its popular culture."
The idea for the revolver came to Colt when he was just a 16-year-old apprentice seaman in 1831, Bellesiles said. To secure capital for producing the guns, Colt went into showmanship, billing himself as "Dr. Coult of London, New York and Calcutta" and holding entertaining demonstrations of "Dr. Coult's gas": nitrous oxide. Patrons paid 25 cents and watched fellow audience members make fools of themselves under the influence of the gas.
Though he squandered much of the money he made, Colt learned two things from his laughing gas shows: the extent of human gullibility and how to work with the press. He persuaded his family to help him fund the Patent Arms Manufacturing Co. in Paterson, N.J., in 1836. Over the years, Colt bribed, cajoled, lied and exaggerated to federal and state officials to get them to order his guns. Not until later did he begin to capitalize on private ownership.
"Contrary to the popular image, few people in the United States owned guns prior to the 1850s," Bellesiles said. "Probate and militia records make clear that only between a tenth and a quarter of adult white males owned firearms. Massachusetts counted all privately owned guns; at no point prior to 1840 did more than 11 percent of that state's citizens own firearms, and Massachusetts was, along with Connecticut, the center of U.S. arms production."
But Colt managed to create the perception of a need for guns in the minds of urban males. His task of selling firearms to settlers was far easier; Colt had to convince city folk they needed guns for protection even though crime rates were so low that no police force in the country-other than slave patrols in the South-carried anything more deadly than a billy club.
"The public seemed indifferent, when not actively hostile, to gun ownership," Bellesiles said. "Even hunting was held up to ridicule, and it was mocked as the play of insufficiently grown-up boys. Those who prized hunting followed the British lead in seeing it as a gentleman's sport, one which should remain free from the taint of the lower orders."
But Colt changed all that, masterfully using the press to play off people's fears, just as he did on larger scales with governments. Colt went to Russia in 1852 and told the czar that the sultan of Turkey had just purchased 5,000 pistols. After the czar scrambled to likewise arm his troops with 5,000 revolvers, Colt then went to Constantinople to tell the sultan that the czar of Russia had just bought 5,000 pistols. Colt created a mini-arms race and made 10,000 sales.
Colt made other household items in his factory, all stamped with his name to keep it in the public's consciousness. When critics questioned the safety of his revolvers, Colt offered a reward to anyone who could document a single case of deadly misfire; reports of this offer simply gave Colt more free publicity.
"When questioned about the ethics of such an approach to sales, Colt responded that the surest guarantee of social peace was for everyone to carry a Colt revolver," Bellesiles said. "That aphorism, that an armed society was a peaceful society, was Colt's favorite even though it turned on its head over 200 years of Western legal tradition.
"Rather than relying on the state for personal
protection, the individual must protect himself-it
was a view which accepted the atomistic nature of
society and could conceive of no communal strategy
for collective security. It is a view which carries
a price still," said Bellesiles.
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