Did We Strike a Nerve at the NRA?

Our article in the current issue of the Washington Monthly on how to reduce gun violence by limiting the supply of handguns, which was published right after the slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, was sadly followed by the tragic mass murder of another 12 innocent Americans at a Thousand Oaks, California bar. Three of the four weapons used in the Pittsburgh slaying were handguns. In California, the shooter, a disturbed ex-Marine, wielded only one weapon: a handgun.

In the midst of this, the National Rifle Association posted a response to our proposal.  The organization – more or less – accused me of being a Communist. It also, quite predictably, argued that our proposal would lead to the disarming of America, a massive federal registry of handgun purchasers, and the implementation of smart gun gadgets that monitor and limit firing to authorized users – thus giving the government “ultimate veto over the gun’s use.”

For the record, I am not a Communist. As a lifelong private equity investor, I’m quite comfortable being called – for better or worse – a committed capitalist. I also believe that every American has the right to own a handgun or as many handguns as they want. I do not believe in half measures or in any solution that would give our government the kind of veto power the NRA wants to hang on our ideas. Our proposal is an intellectually honest and good faith effort to address the most basic underlying issue in the debate: that there are simply too many handguns circulating in America and that an astonishing number of handguns are being brought into the US market by foreign companies. If we can reduce the number of handguns in the US over a long period of time using a basic supply-and-demand mechanism, we can actually address the gun violence plague. Here from our article is the essence of our proposal.

 [T]he solutions that are typically discussed fail to match the scale of the problem. Banning military-style semiautomatic weapons, regulating magazine clips, closing the gun show loophole, and preventing people with domestic violence restraining orders from acquiring weapons might well reduce levels of gun violence—to some extent. But it is hard to argue that these reforms, even if they all went into effect, would do much more than put a modest dent in the problem, and for a simple reason: there are just too many guns floating around…

To shift the supply and demand dynamics of firearms in America, and thereby reduce gun violence, what if somebody acquired every handgun manufacturer in America? And what if that somebody were the federal government?…

[M]ost gun violence is perpetrated with handguns. In the ten states with the most gun homicides, handguns are responsible for roughly 80 percent.

Semiautomatic assault rifles, like the AR-15 and its competitors, are at the center of the gun debate, primarily because of their role in recent mass shootings. But mass shootings make up a small fraction of gun injuries and deaths in America. Moreover, according to a 2013 government report, a handgun was involved in roughly two-thirds of mass shootings in the U.S. since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

The number of handguns in circulation is astonishing. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), since 1986 over 100 million handguns have been manufactured and imported into the U.S.—approximately one for every household in America during that period. Roughly 40% of handguns entering circulation are imported from allies like Germany, Austria, Brazil, Croatia and Italy.

To bring down the level of gun violence, we need to have fewer handguns in circulation. To that end, I propose that Congress pass legislation directing the federal government to take three major steps: purchase the entire domestic handgun manufacturing industry; ban the import of all handguns; and offer cash buybacks for all handguns in circulation. Over time, this would allow the government to significantly lower the supply—and thereby raise the price—of handguns, all without infringing on Americans’ right to bear arms.

I hope you will read my piece and, yes, the NRA’s answer, as well. I think it is good that this specific conversation is underway and that those who clearly disagree with the ideas are responding. Finding ways to reduce gun violence in our country while respecting and upholding the Second Amendment is in no way easy or straightforward. I respect much of what is said in the NRA answer to my article, but I respectfully disagree with the conclusion.

Leave it to a left-leaning private equity investor to assume that American’s fundamental rights are merely one more type of commodity that can be bought and sold in a highly-manipulated market. Of course left-leaning oligarchs regard American democracy itself that way, as something that can be had for a price and then used to suit their personal ends and preferences.

In any event, it is time for the 115th Congress, the Democratic majority leadership and independent and moderate thinkers in the Senate and the House to do more than window dress with this life and death issue. Let’s commit to finding a true long-term compromise to the gun violence problem in America that bridges the gap by protecting American’s underlying right to own as many guns as they want while providing a dividend to all handgun owners and a massive financial gain to every shareholder of every handgun manufacturer in America. It will result in a tremendous bargain for the American taxpayer and save many lives.

We heard it best from Susan Orfanos, mother of the 27-year old Navy veteran Telemachus Orfanos, who had survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas only to be slain in Thousand Oaks:

I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control, and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers. I want gun control.

William V. Glastris Jr.

William V. Glastris Jr. is managing member at Evanston Partners, LLC. He's spent his entire career as a lower-middle-market private equity investor, and is now the chairman of Fabretto Children’s Foundation.