Disarming America: An Economic Approach to Changing Gun Culture

For a brief time, the horrific the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut – and the daily gun murders since –roused Americans from their complacent coma and sparked a conversation that is as much name-calling and finger-pointing as it is a practical and progressive step toward affecting the root cause of gun violence: guns.  But, alas, the new year is upon us and the outrage seems to have been swept up with the confetti and put away until the next time some emotionally-burdened and gun-laden bad actor takes it upon himself to take away so much life.

We can’t let that happen.  We have a gun problem in America.  We have too many and they are too easy to get.  Sure, the new Congress is tripping over itself to put forth some legislation. But regardless of any political action, each of us who believes that the U.S. gun culture has got to change must step up to make real change happen.

It won’t be easy.  It will require an attention to detail and a persistence that have become too uncommon in this country.  It will take hard decisions and it may cost a little more here and there.  But it can be done.  We can change the gun culture in this country.

I won’t make a political argument here.  It is easy enough to argue that the context of the Second Amendment itself and the time in which it was proposed tilt to the side of reasonable regulation.  As ratified by the States, the Amendment reads:

A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Not since the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in the 60s have we paid much attention to the words to the left side of the comma in that sentence.  But there it is, clearly: the government’s obligation to regulate well arms-bearing citizens for the defense of the Union.

Generations of law makers and the people who elect, then re-elect, them ought to be ashamed for shirking their responsibility.

Washington will redouble its efforts in the coming Congressional session, no doubt, and good citizens will put pressure on both sides of the aisle to get something done – or not – to regulate the gun industry and gun ownership.  We’ll vow never again to vote for a politician who takes money from the gun lobby.  We’ll sign petitions and write our leaders.

And it might make a dent in the culture, but I doubt it will bring dramatic change quickly enough to prevent another Newtown or Aurora or Oakland drive-by.

In this country, political change comes slowly and divisively.  Real change comes economically.

For all the best intentions, like most things, change will come when money and power gravitate toward it.  Our job is to become the magnets, making real change more attractive than the status quo.

 

To change our culture of gun violence, we have a wholesale – and retail – rejection of those who profit from it.

Shop Your Values   Steroids give athletes an unfair advantage.  Automatic assault rifles give hunters a more egregious and lopsided advantage.  Sporting goods stores don’t sell steroids; they shouldn’t sell automatic weapons, either.    Vow that you will not shop in stores that peddle guns, and let those stores know why you’re taking your business elsewhere.   Walmart and Dick’s, among others, removed select inventory from their shelves in the days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.   They need to stop selling guns. Period.  Amazon and Ebay also sell guns, as do many locally-owned sporting goods and hardware stores.  It’s time that guns are sold only by specialty retailers with the training to comply with current and future laws.

Divest in the Gun Industry  After losing more than 10% of its value on December 17, Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ: SWHC) now is trading above its pre-Newtown close.  Olin (NASDAQ: OLN), the conglomerate that owns the Winchester brand, is trading just shy of its 12-month high.  While the majority of gun and ammunition manufacturers are private companies, investors can put pressure on these companies by divesting in businesses that support gun manufacturing and its supply chain.

Guns Aren’t Child’s Play  Sure, a kid will pick up a stick and use it to “shoot” a bad guy.  At least he’s using his imagination.  Today’s toy guns and rifles leave little for make-believe.  Simply put: guns aren’t playthings.  Don’t buy them.

Gun Death Isn’t Entertainment  This is the hard one, folks.  We love shoot-‘em-ups in movies, television, and video games.  They get our hearts racing and keep us on the edge of our seats.  They also work to inure us to violence.  In her book Mayhem, Sissila Bok makes a strong case that violent entertainment begets more violent entertainment, until young minds are numbed to its impact.  If you want to raise a generation of sensitive and caring citizens, don’t desensitize kids by purchasing entertainment that reeks of gun smoke.

When the gun business is no longer a good business, the gun culture will change.  You can be a part of that change by refusing to support an industry – from supplier to retailer and to the entertainment industry that normalizes gun violence.  Starting now.

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