Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. are being pressured by minority shareholders – and the odd protest – to “do something” about gun violence. Granted, both companies are being castigated in the press by what appear to be activist investors; various groups buy just enough shares in the company and then use them as a means to advance a political agenda.
In this case, that agenda happens to be gun control.
Setting aside the idea that individuals choose to be violent criminals and therefore should be the parties held responsible for their actions, is there anything that gun manufacturers can actually do about “gun violence?”
Probably not. Not to say there aren’t more things that can be done about any societal problem by various entities, but the causes of so-called gun violence (and violent crime in general) are very broad.
The presumption, of course, is that because the gun industry makes products that are used by a small segment of the population to commit acts of violence, they therefore have it in their power to do something about it. Which is utterly fallacious.
These same people who believe it’s in gun companies power to affect individuals’ behavior think a gun only facilitates violent intentions. But when one isn’t available, violent criminals turn to knives, blunt objects or any other weapon they can improvise. Terrorists resort to using improvised explosives and even vehicles.
Chevrolet can’t do much about an individual choosing to drive in a reckless fashion. They can install airbags, traction control, adaptive cruise control and so on, but they can’t compel people to not drive like maniacs. The gun industry, likewise, is pretty far removed from being able to do much about people who do stupid or illegal things with their products. The individual chooses to act, and is responsible for those it and the consequences.
Violent crimes, whether committed with firearms or not, are motivated by a number of factors both large and small. There are both proximate and distal causes, from bad break-ups to socioeconomic factors at play. Areas with high poverty tend to have more crime and so on and so forth.
For instance, drug and alcohol abuse is definitively correlated with violent crime. Disinhibition can induce people to commit violent acts and drug addicts can be compelled to carry out robberies in order to feed their habits. It’s also well-known that a great many crimes committed with guns – assaults, homicides, etc. – are acts of gang violence, which is largely related to the illegal drug trade.
Clearly, the gun industry has very little – really nothing – to do with the broader influences on gun crime or indeed any violent crime. They can’t affect poverty rates outside of the areas where they employ people, and certainly don’t have any influence when it comes to rates of drug abuse.
Then there’s the supply problem. The majority of gun crimes are committed with a black market firearm that was manufactured 10 or more years prior to being taken into evidence by police. (It’s usually a very long “time to crime” in most instances.)
Firearms can stay functional for much longer than that with any amount of care. Plenty of pistols, shotguns and rifles from the early 20th century (and even late 19th century) are still in working order and can shoot.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that every single gun company was shut down today, never to return. It would take decades, maybe centuries before the supply dwindled enough to make any sort of difference whatsoever.
If various activist groups were serious about tackling the issue of “gun violence,” the supply side is not where the problem lies. Addressing socioeconomic, law enforcement and mental health issues would result in a far bigger impact on violent crime much sooner. But those aren’t issues that Smith, Ruger or any other firearms manufacturer is equipped to address.