Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun

Author Paul Barrett attended the Gun Blogger Rendezvous in Reno last month. I spent several hours talking to him then and have since corresponded some with him. He send me an “Uncorrected Proof” of his new book, Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun. I finished reading it yesterday.

I liked the book. As he told us in Reno this is the story of how Gaston Glock came to dominate the handgun market in the U.S. It is primarily a book about a business and how success came from not only a great product as the right time but also how anti-gun people were his best salesmen. Paul loves the irony (his next book, unrelated to firearms will have it’s share of irony as well), it shows, and it makes the book all the more pleasurable to read.

Barrett and I come from about as disparate backgrounds as two U.S. citizens could. I grew up on a farm in Idaho with German roots which perhaps go back prior to the the birth of our nation (we are still investigating but it may be one of my great+++ grandfather Huffman’s was on the first U.S. census). I don’t own a Glock and probably have fired less than 50 rounds in a couple different Glock pistols. Barrett lives and works in New York City and his mother is Jewish. She escaped Europe as a little girl. Many of her relatives died in the camps during WWII. This difference lead to more irony as our discussion dove deeper into the issues around guns and it will surface again in my review of the book.

Our different perspective on things was a stressor during our conversations. Things we both thought were obvious to the most casual observer were, “You can’t possibly be serious!” moments for the other. I struggled with this stress and I’m pretty sure he did too. We both wanted this “relationship” to work.

If you want a one sentence summation of my thoughts on his book it is, “Gun owners as well many others will find the story of Glock fascinating and the irony will make you smile.” As I dig into specifics keep this in mind. I am deeply embedded in the movement to expand of the civil rights of gun ownership. So when the book touches on subjects I am an expert on and I think it is even slightly off base it really gets my attention. My disagreement on these items should not be taken as an overall disparagement of the book. It is a very enjoyable read and I recommend it.

There a lot of things that surprised me in the book. Of course there was the behind the scenes story of the creation of the gun, it’s marketing, the legal issues, and the criminals who embezzled from and even tried to murder Gaston Glock. That was all fascinating. But what surprised me was how thoroughly Barrett researched the topic and got into “the gun culture”. He attended the NRA convention, went to a small arms trade show in Germany. He spent a weekend with Massad Ayob. He shot in an IPDA match. He tells us that most police are not particularly good shooters and practice less than many private citizen gun owners. He refers to “the smell of Hoppe’s No. 9”, Heinlein’s famous quote, “An armed society is a polite society”, John Moses Browning, and tells the Suzanna Gratia Hupp story. He explains how a gun can malfunction by “limp wristing” it. He points out anti-gun advocates and that the New York times in particular tried to get Glock handguns banned by making claims for which there was no evidence. He points out Josh Sugarmann’s deliberate deception about “assault weapons”. He briefly tells the story of the efforts to ban “Saturday Night Specials” giving the reader the anti-gun people view:

… Saturday Night Specials had no redeeming social value; they couldn’t plausibly be marketed for target shooting, hunting, or police work. By their very nature, according to this view, cheap handguns were meant only to kill people and therefore were “unreasonably hazardous.”

Then he shoots them down with:

The plaintiffs’ argument had visceral appeal to gun foes, but also significant weaknesses: As a matter of economics and fairness, it didn’t address the concerns of people living in violence-ridden neighborhoods who might seek to defend themselves with cut-rate handguns.

He writes of how Glock advertising their pistol was “significantly more powerful with greater firepower and is much easier to shoot fast and true” drew fire from people like Sugarmann who wrote, “The rise of handguns to dominance in the marketplace has corresponded with an increase in their efficiency as killing machines”. And then he shots them down with the well aimed, “This tough rhetoric appeals to many liberal citizens and scholars. But when drained of emotion and set against firearm realities and crime trends, it loses force.”

I saw this again and again in his book and in my discussions with him. He even started to buy his own handgun but the paperwork required by New York City had a rather chilling effect. I was amazed with the details he knew about culture and the battles we have fought against less than ethical opponents.

With all the points he gets right I was occasionally shocked with his conclusions after correctly laying out the facts. Chapter 1 is about the 1986 FBI shootout in Miami. One of the lessons learned there was that a determined bad guy can take many, many hits (Michael Platt absorbed 12 shots before being stopped) and still be a threat. He correctly reports that law enforcement all over the U.S. concluded from this and other events that a six shot revolver wasn’t adequate for officer safety. Yet Barrett says things like, “It’s not obvious why a civilian handgun owner requires seventeen rounds in a magazine of a Glock pistol.” When I read that I wanted to scream at him, “Because if it is going to take 12 rounds to stop him he is going to really pissed off if I only fired ten!” And that doesn’t even get into the situations where there are multiple assailants and not all of your shots are going to be hits on a moving target that is shooting at you.

He refers to “the loophole that remains for private gun transactions” and says, “An estimated 40 percent of handguns are acquired by private transaction, for which no background check—no paperwork at all—is necessary. That makes no sense.”. Again, this guy lost many relatives to the Nazis in WWII. He is smart guy. Even if he has not read the story of the Belgium Corporal surely after digging that deeply into our culture he could formulate an argument about the risks of firearms registration rather than saying, “That makes no sense.” Barrett likes irony and here I, the German (descendent), am making the case to a descendent of a Holocaust survivor that Jews need to protect themselves from tyrannical governments.

He advocates for “ballistic fingerprinting” apparently without doing the usual research. Had he even read the Wikipedia entry he would have realized this scheme had serious and probably fatal flaws which make the database useless for anything other than gun owner registration.

Again and again I saw this. It was as if he had all the facts, he understood the anti-gun people frequently deliberately lied, relied on emotional appeals, and had their hypothesizes discredited. But when it came time to express his own opinion he wasn’t quite ready to give up many of their conclusions.

There are hints of condescension in places but this may have been editors or marketers rather than the author. A flyer included with the book states, “The Glock is a favorite among concealed-carry buffs”. I found that very insulting. Are people who attend church “religious buffs”? Or are people who marry someone of a different skin color “interracial marriage buffs”?

The back of the “UNCORRECTED PROOF : NOT FOR SALE” book includes some small print that looks like the promotion plans:

  • National review and feature attention
  • 20-city radio satellite tour
  • Author events and interviews out of New York
  • Outreach to law-enforcement blogs
  • Paid search campaign
  • Advertising on sites such as TownHall.com
  • Coordinated outreach with academic marketing to colleges and universities with law-enforcement studies programs
  • Advance reader’s edition available for distribution to urban law-enforcement agencies and mayors in cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Miami, Kansas City, and New Orleans
  • eBook edition promoted in all advertising, promotion, and social media outreach

Why the emphasis on law enforcement and not a single mention of gun owner outreach? There are about 80 million gun owners in the U.S. Far, far more than there are police officers. Don’t they think gun owners can read? In addition to the obvious, to my readers, gun blogs there are many gun magazines which reach millions of readers, and there are even online stores that specialize in gun books.

I also found a minor mistake where he implied the “assault weapon ban” was part of the Brady Act. I reported this to him and he thinks he might still be able to get the “glitch” corrected before the book is released in January 2012.

It is still a good book. That his full time job is as a writer shows. I envy his writing skill. I highly recommend this book.

See also other reviews by Ry, Robert Farago, Jim Shepherd (and here), and my previous comments here, here, and here.

Update: Aaron has a review too.

Update2: Review by BobG.

11 thoughts on “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun

  1. Yeah, at GBRIV I thought he was engaging and his story of Glock was interesting and I ordered the book.
    What I did like was when we went to the range and he was very helpful in shlepping my gear, shooting all my stuff, listening to my conservative rants, and replied to my emails in a positive way. Even though he is a New Yorker working for Bloomberg.
    We shall see.

  2. Meeting Paul was surreal for me, because his employer published the “letter to the editor” I submitted in response to his January story on Glocks titled “The Killing Machine.” (Apparently this inflammatory title was the editor’s idea, not his). I think we were both surprised to meet in person, but nonetheless had a very affable exchange and have kept in touch since.
    I received the book about a week after returning from GBR. I enjoyed it thoroughly and reviewed it, too.

  3. @Aaron, sorry I missed your review in my search. I even asked Barrett who else had reviewed it and he didn’t report on yours.

    I have updated my post with a link to your review.

  4. Joe — Thanks for this thorough and provocative review. I am especially grateful for your generous comments about my account of Gaston Glock, the Glock pistol, and gun culture in the United States. Obviously, we disagree on certain points about gun control. But as you indicate in your thoughtful piece, MY views on gun control are not the core of this book. My views are incidental, even peripheral. You can agree with them or disagree with them and still find the narrative story of the Glock worth reading (and enjoying). I think you make these distinctions clear in your piece, and for that, again, I say, thanks and all the best, Paul

  5. Ever heard of a “Civil War buff”? I was one in my time…it never seemed derogatory/condscending to me, although it isn’t one of your listed examples. So (without more context) I’ll suspend judgment on that one. Nice review, though, makes me want to buy a copy.

  6. From “Buff” @ Dictionary.com:

    a devotee or well-informed student of some activity or subject: Civil War buffs avidly read the new biography of Grant.

    I think of “buffs” as people who participate in the activity as a hobby and not something particularly important in the grand scheme of things. Exercising a specific enumerated, inalienable, right does not fall into that category.

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