Miller Center guest Paul Barrett addresses American gun culture
Barrett says gun control should target purchasers, not guns
The Miller Center hosted Paul Barrett, author of “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun,” for a forum to discuss the Glock pistol and gun culture in the United States Wednesday morning.
Barrett is a former editor for the Wall Street Journal and currently assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. He also writes for The New York Times Sunday Book Review.
“He became one of the very finest newspaper editors in American journalism during his time at The Wall Street Journal,” said Douglas Blackmon, chair of the Miller Center’s Forum Program.
Barrett framed his discussion with an overview of the history and engineering of the Glock pistol, focusing on the features which make it stand out from other handguns on the market.
Austrian engineer Gaston Glock invented the Glock pistol after a career using polymers to build curtain rods for the Austrian Army. Barrett credits the revolutionary design and success of the pistol to Glock’s lack of prior experience in the field of handgun design.
“That was his great advantage, knowing nothing,” Barrett said. “Many great inventors have made big leaps forward in technology because they start with a blank sheet of paper, which is what Gaston Glock started with.”
The Glock pistol introduced a 17-round magazine, streamlined design and a unique “trigger safety” mechanism in a market primarily ruled by six-round metal and wooden revolvers.
The use of Glock pistols in the United States police force became popular in the late 1980s, when police forces felt they were “outgunned” by the rise of large gangs and drugs in large urban areas.
“There wasn’t a lot of empirical evidence that police officers were outgunned [by drug gangs] in any provable way,” he said. “But police officers were under the impression that they were outgunned, and therefore Gaston Glock’s marketing pitch of 17 rounds compared to five or six rounds was very appealing.”
Popularity of the gun among the general public rose as a result of the widespread use of the pistol in police forces as well as its portrayal in popular media, which Barrett noted frequently misrepresents the weapon.
Barrett also paid close attention to the role of the Glock in early gun control efforts — an issue not widely debated until the 1960s. Jurisdictions across the country made attempts to ban the pistol by name, something Barrett says had not occurred for any company prior to the Glock. These efforts were overall ineffective, and served only to popularize the firearm.
“The effort to demonize a weapon that is not intrinsically more dangerous than Grandpa’s deer rifle has just backfired time and again,” Barrett said.
Barrett believes the key to proper gun control lies not in the restriction of the guns themselves, but in an increased restriction in access to guns.
“Too often, liberals imagine that what we need to do is get rid of the guns,” he said. “The thing is, that’s never going to happen. The Second Amendment is a constitutional principle that is deeply meaningful to many Americans. The question is what can be done to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have any firearm.”
A common topic of concern from those in the audience was the relationship between America’s “gun culture” and the increased frequency of school shootings within the past decade. Recently, the Glock has been among weapons identified in various shootings. Barrett drew attention specifically to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary which took place just more than a year ago, where the gun used by the shooter in the school was identified as a Glock 20SF.
One viewer asked, “How far are we willing to go in a pragmatic way focusing on crime and police in the schools?”
Barrett said there is no solution that is right for everyone when it comes to preventing gun violence in schools.
“Putting a police officer in schools is not ideal,” Barrett said. “It signals we are anxious about something. On the other hand, maybe it has a good side effect.”
Despite his support for the allowance of civilian possession of firearms, Barrett does not consider himself “pro-gun.”
“I think I’m a pragmatist,” he said. “I’m in favor of law-abiding people who want to own guns, owning them and using them safely.”