The Magical Mystery Glock

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.

20 Responses to The Magical Mystery Glock

  • Granting that the Glock isn’t any more deadly than other handguns and granting that past gun control laws haven’t done much, what’s wrong with advocating an extended magazine ban? Loughner would have shot more people had his gun held more rounds. That’s undeniable.

  • Well, we’ve had extended magazine bans in the past, and they’ve neither prevented mass killings nor made an impact in the murder rate. It’s true that Loughner was tackled when he had trouble changing magazines, but a lot of mass killers (including Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and Columbine) used standard size magazines and changed them repeatedly before being tackled.

    I have no great attachment to extended magazines; I’m just not clear that banning them would achieve anything other than making gun control advocates feel good.

  • The Glock 9 mm. is light.

    Real men carry something effective like the M1911 .45 Government issue, or whatever.

    Heck, a rolled up magazine or newspaper is an effective weapon when intelligently employed. Thing is: need to keep alert and be ready to act at all times.

    PS: If that were a GOP gathering, someone would have stopped him before he got off three rounds.

    Fight gun violence! Shoot back.

  • If gun control had won, Loughner would still be shooting sheeple.

    This is not 1994. Tucson is similar to the 1993 LIRR raison d’etre for the 879th thru 902nd gun control laws, and Carolyn McCarthy and her 100% promotion of abortion and common snese socialism.

    Then, a white-hating, Jamaican immigrant shot up a commuter RR car. Mayor Dinkens (first and last black NYC mayor) was boss in NYC. So fellow-racist Colin Ferguson waited until the train was outside NYC to open fire. He was safe. No one in NYC and Nassau can carry a weapon except the murderers and cops that respond in 20 minutes.

    The sheeple had gun control to protect them!

    They were blessed with security and safety and got to experience how it feels to sit in their and cringe in their seats while the GUN calmly walked the aisle pumping rounds into sheeps’ heads.

    Fight gun violence. Shoot back.

    [T. Shaw -- I take your point, but I'm going to ask you to avoid the sheep/sheeple kind of terminology when talking about shooting victims. It comes off as seriously heartless.]

  • “I have no great attachment to extended magazines; I’m just not clear that banning them would achieve anything other than making gun control advocates feel good.”

    Bingo. That has usually been the only good achieved by gun control legislation. However, in this political environment even this type of empty symbolic legislation is going nowhere quickly.

  • That has usually been the only good achieved by gun control legislation. However, in this political environment even this type of empty symbolic legislation is going nowhere quickly.

    I would just point out that it is often difficult for a sociologist to ascertain the effects of incremental policy changes. That does not mean that the policy changes are worthless, merely that their effects are difficult to isolate and discern. (And if I am not mistaken, hauling people in on weapons offenses was one of the salient features of ‘broken windows’ policing. ‘Symbolic legislation’ can have some salutary spill-over benefits.

  • I would just point out that it is often difficult for a sociologist to ascertain the effects of incremental policy changes. That does not mean that the policy changes are worthless, merely that their effects are difficult to isolate and discern.

    True — though I as regards to my own support or opposition to something I think I’d tend to feel it’s necessary for me to see a clear cause and effect relationship, at least when it comes to instituting a legal ban on things. I think a lot of gun enthusiasts would fear that the primary incremental result from an extended gun magazine ban would be more restrictive gun bans in the future.

    I guess my attitude toward extended magazine bans is:

    If a ban were suggested against 20+ round magazines, I wouldn’t support it (and if I were in congress I wouldn’t vote for it) but it wouldn’t worry me much and I wouldn’t bother opposing it much either.

    If the 10+ round magazine of the “assault weapon” ban were brought back, I would bestir myself to oppose it a bit, but I still wouldn’t be extremely upset if it passed.

    I don’t really think either one of these is a good idea or would save a discernible number of lives — to be honest the main effect might be to increase the paranoia of the more extreme band of gun rights enthusiast — but I don’t think the loss of magazine size beyond ten would be a major problem for legal gun owners. Of course, that’s mainly because I think such a ban would do absolutely nothing to change the overall effectiveness of guns. It would just remove a completely surface level aspect of “bad-assery” from the gun store.

  • Mac,

    Sorry.

    I was out with arthroscopic knee surgery or I would have been on the LIRR train that that bad man shot up. I was also present at the (1993/2001) WTC bombings.

    Maintain a low profile, stay alert, keep moving, don’t get silouhetted on a military horizon, etc.

    Sorry, again. In doesn’t mean anything. One more such incident and I’m “packing it in.”

  • T. Shaw,

    Actually, that was me stepping in as editor — we each edit the threads on our own posts.

    Definitely understand. There are much lesser scares that have made me very glad to be a gun owner over the years. I just want to make sure we keep a level of discussion here at TAC that stays within certain bounds. Kind of the online version of broken window policing. :-)

  • The 1994 ban on extended magazines didn’t ban existing magazines.
    The V Tech killer used a Glock with 15-round magazines. It’s very possible that he would’ve shot fewer people had it been 10-round magazines. One of the guns used in Columbine was a TEC-DC9 with a pre-ban 32-round magazine from which 55 shots were fired.

    It’s true that criminals will adapt to a ban by buying more magazines, guns, or recruiting accomplices. But every additional level of complexity is a place where criminals can get tripped up and it doesn’t affect law-abiding gun owners at all.

  • I think you kind of need to think about what you’re proposing here versus the size of the theoretical benefit. “Banning existing magazines” may sound very easy on paper, but in fact it would mean trying to confiscate tens of millions of magazines from legal gun owners — magazines that were bought legally and which have only an infinitessimal chance of every being involved in any crime. You’d doubtless have a lot of people who would (for one reason or another) defy the law, and so you’d have law enforcement tied up with enforcing it and the justice system tied up with prosecuting people for crimes (I’m assuming you’d have to make this a fellony to get any compliance) related to the law.

    And all of that chaos in hopes that maybe in the handful of crimes each year in which more than a dozen shots are fired, that changing magazines (assuming that the law succeeded in keeping these incredibly plentiful things from ending up on the black market) would trip up a criminal and thus result in fewer shots being fired?

    I can seriously see how, at first pass, the idea seems like a well intentioned way to “do something” about violence in the face of a news story about one of the exceptional events in which a lot of shots are fired, but it seems to me that once you think about it a bit the whole thing becomes both ineffective and untennable.

  • There are very few things impossible policy wise. Offer a $50 bounty on magazines with a capacity over 10, and you would see a significant number of magazines out of circulation. Combine that requiring a permit to transport after 180 days, and the problem would seem to be solved. I’m not claiming such a thing is prudent; I’m simply claiming it is a policy obstacle that can be overcome.

  • I wouldn’t want to spend much more than the recycle value to take illicit magazines off the streets. After a ban, I’d prefer that private charities do that. I think the most effective part of the ban would be making them unavailable at legit gun stores like the ones where Loughner and Seung-Hui Cho bought theirs. Marginal benefit for sure, but also marginal cost.

  • But if a “complete” ban actually left tens of millions of the things floating around the country on the grey market (which is seems to me either RR or MZ’s proposals would) then you might as well save the money on collection and enforcement and just have a ban on manufacture and sale of new ones.

    Which, yeah, might mean that some crazy intent on shooting a lot of people shot them with a 2-3 second pause every ten shots. I’m just not clear that’s a huge benefit.

    Like I say, I don’t see a huge downside to a “high capacity” magazine ban (though I see exactly zero chance of such a thing passing any time in the near future) I just don’t think there would be much upside other than annoying gun owners and making gun control advocates feel mildly better.

    If there was to be a piece of legislation taken out of this whole tragedy, I’d think the most obvious choice would be trying to come up with a way to make it harder for someone who has been reported to police repeatedly for issuing death threats and generally unstable behavior to walk in and buy a gun and ammo without having to answer a few questions or get put on a waiting list or something.

  • “If there was to be a piece of legislation taken out of this whole tragedy, I’d think the most obvious choice would be trying to come up with a way to make it harder for someone who has been reported to police repeatedly for issuing death threats and generally unstable behavior to walk in and buy a gun and ammo without having to answer a few questions or get put on a waiting list or something.”

    1. Make it easier to involuntarily commit crazy people who are a danger to themselves and to other. 2. Create institutions to treat and care for said crazy people. The civil libertarians would howl at one, and the cost would make most people howl at two. Until we bite the bullet on this, we will still have the odd massacre by someone who is deranged, and clearly mentally ill people living homeless on our streets.

  • Make it easier to involuntarily commit crazy people who are a danger to themselves and to other.

    We had a case in Brooklyn where a student was involuntarily committed for weeks. Turned out the student was completely sane. If anybody supports this now, they won’t once more stories like that come out.

    Create institutions to treat and care for said crazy people.

    Again, in NY, back in the 60’s and 70’s, notoriously underfunded mental institutes arguable made matters worse than no funding at all because it gave people the impression that something was being done. There is no public support for increased funding and politicians would rather dip into the coffers to buy votes than help non-voters.

  • In this political climate, political dissidents would end up in the mental institutions just like in the USSR.

    “Oh, you think that blob of cells is a human being, do you Mr. McClarey? Well that is clearly an insane belief, and you may be a pro-life terrorist. 3 years in a psychiatric ward! Next!”

    Besides, didn’t that incompetent left-wing sheriff know about Loughner in advance? Wasn’t it is professional failure that really is to blame here?

  • No Joe, I assure you that by the time I was done in the courtroom those who sought to involuntarily commit me would find themselves buried in litigation for the remainder of their existence. Contra One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest it is very difficult, certainly in Illinois, to have manifestly mentally ill people committed against their will. The streets and jails are currently where the majority of seriously mentally ill people are “housed” in this country. The fortunate ones live with long-suffering relatives who are often at their wits end as to what to do.

  • I don’t know RR, I think the student in question might be a few screws loose:

    http://gothamist.com/2011/01/14/brooklyn_college_student.php

    In Illinois a legal hearing would have had to have been conducted, with appointed counsel for her prior to her committment.

  • Glock 19 “not suited for… personal protection.”
    Thanks! I needed a good laugh.
    And thank you for posting the picture of the Beretta, which aesthetically blows the polyGlock out of the water.
    Oops. Violent rhetoric. Mea culpa.

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