In the wake of the Tuscon shooting, there have been renewed call for gun control. This is hardly surprising, and while from my own point of view it seems like an attempt to make political hay out of widespread shock and fear, and I can certainly understand that for those who believe that our current gun laws make violence more common, this sort of event would seem to confirm their thesis. What is not, however, reasonable from those who believe that gun control would be a good thing for our country, is the odd fixation of the anti-gun lobby on the Glock brand.
|The Glock 19|
One common question from gun control advocates in the wake of the shooting was, “Why would any reasonable person think that civilians should need or want to own Glocks?” New York Times columnist Gail Collins summed up this line of thinking well in a column entitled “A Right to Bear Glocks?” Collins writes:
Today, the amazing thing about the reaction to the Giffords shooting is that virtually all the discussion about how to prevent a recurrence has been focusing on improving the tone of our political discourse. That would certainly be great. But you do not hear much about the fact that Jared Loughner came to Giffords’s sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it.
If Loughner had gone to the Safeway carrying a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms, Giffords would probably still have been shot and we would still be having that conversation about whether it was a sane idea to put her Congressional district in the cross hairs of a rifle on the Internet.
But we might not have lost a federal judge, a 76-year-old church volunteer, two elderly women, Giffords’s 30-year-old constituent services director and a 9-year-old girl who had recently been elected to the student council at her school and went to the event because she wanted to see how democracy worked.
Loughner’s gun, a 9-millimeter Glock, is extremely easy to fire over and over, and it can carry a 30-bullet clip. It is “not suited for hunting or personal protection,” said Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign. “What it’s good for is killing and injuring a lot of people quickly.”
Almost everything Collins says about the Glock 19 9mm pistol in this section is misleading. The Glock 19 was not banned under the assault weapon ban which Congress allowed to expire in 2004. Indeed, I personally shot one at gun ranges (in hyper-restrictive California, no less) back in 2001-2003 several times. What was banned by that legislation was the manufacture or import of additional magazines which held more than 10 rounds. However, existing high capacity magazines (the standard Glock 19 magazine before the law passed as a 15-round magazine) were not banned and could be traded or resold freely. So while a 30-round clip such as Loughner used in the shooting would have been somewhat more expensive and harder to find between 1994 and 2004, it would not have been that hard. Glock simply issued new pistols manufactured between 1994 and 2004 with a modified magazine which held only ten rounds.
|A Glock 19 with extended 30 round magazine|
Contra Mr. Helmke’s claim that the Glock 19 is “not suited for hunting or personal protection,” and that instead, “What it’s good for is killing and injuring a lot of people quickly.” the Glock 19 is in fact one of the most frequently carried police sidearms in large city police departments. Police, to my understanding, are generally issued pistols which are suited for personal protection, and are in fact seldom called upon to “kill and injure a lot of people quickly.”
The fact of the matter is that the Glock is very much “a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms”. What distinguishes it from other 9mm pistols (9mm is now the single most commonly used pistol calibre in the US) is simply that it is somewhat light, simpler in construction, and more reliable (depending on who you ask) than other similar guns.
Personally, having shot the Glock 19 and it’s slightly larger framed cousin the Glock 17 a few times, if I were to buy a 9mm pistol I’d go for a metal framed model such as the Beretta 92FS. The Glocks simply feel to light to me, and I find the extra weight helps me keep a better aim. But as a quick look at the specifications of the Beretta 92FS shows, there’s really no functional difference between the two in terms of the Glock being more of a danger to society.
|The Beretta 92FS|
As a quick glance down this guy’s “top 25” list of 9mm’s shows, the there’s nothing that makes the Glock a particularly dangerous gun compared to basically all of the rest. Indeed, the only thing that makes the Glock 19 more dangerous than the centerfire pistol I would personally most like to own, the M1911 Colt .45, which this year will mark 100 years since it became standard in the US Army, is that the Glock, with its wider magazine an smaller cartridge, can carry 15 rounds in its standard factory magazine to the M1911’s 7.
|The Colt M1911 .45 turns 100 this year|
It is true that holding more rounds in a clip can make a pistol more dangerous in a mass shooting such as Loughner’s Tuscon rampage — but magazines are in fact pretty quick to change out. In other mass shootings (such as the Virginia Tech massacre) the shooter has simply carried many standard-size magazines. Further, although mass shootings such as in Tuscon get much greater media attention, the vast majority of the 12,000 homicides involving guns each year in the US are the result of only a few shots being fired — no different from decades ago when revolvers were far more popular than pistols.
So why the outcry against Glocks in particular, if there is nothing to set them out as particularly more deadly than handguns in general? Much of this may stem from the fact that many gun control advocates actually know every little about guns, and as such have the greatest tendency to believe false anti-gun reporting. In the mid-80s, when the Glock was first being brought to the US from Austria, gun control advocates saw a chance to achieve a quick win based on the new, high impact plastic technology which the Glock used in parts of its grips and frame. Articles were written claiming that these “plastic guns” were “terrorist specials” which could escape detection by metal detectors and x-ray machines in airports. Congress even proposed legislation to ban guns made of plastic. The problem was, the hysteria was based entirely on wrong facts. Although the Glocks did use more plastic than had been in older pistol designs, the barrel, slide, and a number of other parts were still metal. Containing more than a pound of metal (even unloaded), Glocks easily set off airport metal detectors and looked exactly like what they were under x-ray machines.
The law that congress eventually passed in 1988 banned any gun which contained less than 3.2oz of metal — a criteria which resulted in exactly zero guns being banned by the law. Meanwhile, the Glocks won a loyal following both among police and civilian shooting enthusiasts. However, gun control advocates seem not quite to have got over their own mis-directed hype, and so the bogeyman of the evil “plastic gun” lives on, adding to the Glock’s mystique, and thus making it all the more likely that the next twenty-something misfit who wants to go out with a “bang” will select one of the polymer-framed shooting bricks as his murder weapon.