The Great Debate

Who will be the Volvo of the firearms industry?

Who will be the Volvo of the firearms industry? For four decades until 1999, the Swedish carmaker led the world in making safety a virtue of its products. Its efforts paid off handsomely as sales and market share climbed, Volvo charged a premium for its vehicles and the company was eventually sold for $6.5 billion. The same could be done with guns.

Volvo’s timing was good. From its introduction of a little invention that became the modern seatbelt in 1958 to its sale some 40 golden years later to Ford Motor, public consciousness in automotive safety blossomed. Volvo’s technological lead gave it an edge over rivals who showed less interest in protecting passengers than revving up horsepower.

Something similar could happen to gunsmiths following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December. After all, it took public outrage over horrific automobile fatalities, which peaked at around 55,000 in the early 1970s, to force legislative changes.

Yet innovations by the likes of Volvo showed that market forces could also play a role, not just in fostering good public policy but in creating lucrative businesses.

At present, most gun marketing in the United States is predicated on power and machismo. But what if the unique selling point of a weapon became safety features, like a trigger that only works in the hands of the gun’s owner? That, in a nutshell, is the aim of the Sandy Hook Promise Innovation Initiative, a program unveiled in San Francisco on Thursday.

Obama mobilizes his New America

There’s a reason why President Barack Obama has chosen to put gun control at the top of his second-term agenda. No issue draws as bright a line between the Old America and the New America as the gun issue. It will keep his coalition mobilized – the New America coalition that delivered for him in the election: working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish and Muslim voters, young people, gays and educated professionals.

Obama paid tribute to the New America in his second Inaugural Address on Monday. “We possess all the qualities,” Obama declared, “that this world without boundaries demands, youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”

Obama insisted “our journey is not complete” until the country finds a “better way to welcome striving hopeful immigrants,” until “our wives, mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” until “our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” and until all our children – including those on “the quiet lanes of Newtown” – know that they are “always safe from harm.”

Michael Bloomberg and America’s guns

Bernd Debusmann— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions are his own —

New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is stepping in where President Barack Obama fears to tread — confronting America’s powerful gun lobby. In the country that holds a commanding global lead in civilian gun ownership, it promises to be a hard fight.

No matter how it goes, America’s position at the top of the list of gun-owning nations looks secure. Up to 280 million guns are estimated to be in private hands and the arsenal is growing year by year. On a guns-per-capita basis, the United States (90 guns per 100 residents) is way ahead of second-ranked Yemen (61 per 100), according to the authoritative Small Arms Survey issued by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

Obama has been a sore disappointment for advocates of tighter gun controls, and a boon to gun manufacturers and dealers. Predictions that his administration would swiftly work towards greater restrictions helped spark a huge run on firearms after his election. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s biggest gun lobby, said its members reported widespread shortages of ammunition.

In American crisis, anger and guns

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

In the first two months of this year, around 2.5 million Americans bought guns, a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2008. It was great news for gun makers and a sign of a dark mood in the country.

Gun sales shot up almost immediately after Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential elections on November 4 and firearm enthusiasts rushed to stores, fearing he would tighten gun controls despite campaign pledges to the contrary.