Amid the seemingly continuous, ever-unchanging gun debate in the United States, anti-gun activists have set their sights on large American gun manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson, Remington, and Ruger. To them, it seems that the only thing blocking new firearms prohibitions is the evil, huge, money-grubbing American gun manufacturers, which supposedly prop up the National Rifle Association (NRA). However, as with many beliefs held by gun-control advocates, reality provides an inconvenient contrast to the idea that convincing a few gun manufacturers could help gun control become law. In actuality, the gun market is decentralized and international, with only a few large players, which have little, if any, control over the market.
On August 26, David Hogg, the school-shooting survivor turned gun-control mascot, led a march to gunmaker Smith & Wesson’s headquarters in Springfield, Mass. Hogg and his troupe made a characteristically random demand for a $5 million donation to their cause and stood outside the company’s office holding signs decrying the business because it happened to have manufactured the particular rifle used in the now-infamous Parkland shooting.
Before the march, Hogg tweeted his demands to the company. The demands were an annual $5 million contribution to “gun violence prevention research,” whatever that is, and that the company “stop producing weapons that are illegal under the 2004 Massachusetts assault weapons ban.” Were the demands not met, Hogg promised to “destroy” the company with “love and economics.”
The fixation gun-control proponents have with American businesses reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the firearms industry. These activists seem to think that if they can get large American gunmakers to bend to their will, it will somehow lead to broader changes in our society. Whether they think it will make the guns they dislike less available, or somehow win people over to their side of the gun debate, the fact is that even if America’s largest gun makers disappeared tomorrow, nothing would change. In fact, these big companies are struggling financially.
The American gun market is remarkably decentralized. Let’s take a closer look at the anti-gun crowd’s favorite punching bag: the AR-15. Yes, the particular gun used in the Parkland shooting was an MP-15 made at Smith & Wesson, but the MP-15 only makes up a tiny slice of AR-15s made and sold in the United States. ARs from comparatively small shops like Anderson Manufacturing and Palmetto are incredibly popular, and their sales keep growing. The firearms industry as a whole is extremely diverse in terms of company size, with small shops making up a huge chunk of the industry.
Just in Florida, producers of the AR-15 include Tactical Machining, Spike’s Tactical, Knight’s Armament, and more. Beyond that, still remaining in Hogg’s home state of Florida, there is Kel-Tec, one of the most prolific manufacturers of inexpensive handguns, and even Kalashnikov working on AK-pattern rifles in Pompano Beach.
Truthfully, the gun-manufacturing industry is a diverse and international market. The Belgians took over making most AR-pattern weapons for the Army back in the 1980’s. Our police forces overwhelmingly carry Austrian Glocks. Most handgun magazines sold in the United States are Italian. Of the five best-selling civilian handguns of 2016, only two were American-made. The remaining three were Austrian, Swiss, and Croatian. The idea that this diverse smorgasbord of companies is somehow determining American gun law is as far-fetched as it seems. Just try to imagine two Americans, an Austrian, a Croat, and a Swiss man agreeing on what to eat for lunch, much less ruling American gun politics.
The gun-policy debate is rife with misconceptions and misinformation. From imaginative CNN commentators dribbling on about “fully semi-automatic” firearms to confused politicians spreading fear of “30-caliber clips,” there will always be something for anti-gun activists to pull their hair out over. Obsessing over ailing big businesses, though, in a market that is as diverse in nationality as it is in firm size, is a particularly useless endeavor. Hogg and the rest of the anti-gun crowd need to waste less time fighting manufactured enemies and spend more time actually confronting hard questions head-on.
Matthew Larosiere is a legal associate at a Washington, D.C., think tank. He holds a J.D. and LL.M. in taxation and is licensed to practice law in Florida. He is a Young Voices Contributor and can be found on Twitter @MattLaAtLaw.