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Urban Rhythms

Fire One

By Wiley Hall III | Posted 10/13/1999

The bumper sticker read, GOD MADE MAN EQUAL. BUT COL. COLT MADE SOME MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.

Most amusing. Especially in light of the Colt's Manufacturing Co.'s recent announcement that it will no longer manufacture handguns for consumers—thus marking the official beginning of the end of America's love affair with guns.

We are talking here about the company founded by old Sam Colt, inventor of the six-shooter known out West as the "Peacemaker." We are talking about the guy whose fancy pearl handles and silver inlay wooed the hearts of presidents and kings. Roughly 30 million Colt pistols and rifles have been sold since 1836, according to The New York Times. Colt weapons remain a favorite of gun collectors and sportsmen to this day.

Yep, Colt helped make some more equal than others all right. Thanks to Col. Colt (the military title, I understand, was a courtesy), Ulysses S. Grant became president of the United States instead of Sitting Bull. Noble Third World warriors, armed with flintlocks and spears, were subjugated for decades to the better-armed bravado of both the Old World and the New.

The Colt .45 helped make John Wayne and Jimmy Cagney American heroes. Were it not for the love affair with mayhem inspired by the Colt, we'd be watching more movies like Fried Green Tomatoes and My Dinner With Andre and fewer movies like The Terminator and The Matrix. Imagine walking into a bar and ordering a Fried Green Tomato Malt Liquor. Doesn't have quite the same oomph, does it?

Now, Colt's Manufacturing Co. wants out. Executives say the company will close seven of its consumer lines—accounting for approximately 30 percent of its sales—and focus mainly on the law-enforcement and military markets. It is doing this because of the financial uncertainty created by the growing number of pending class-action lawsuits against gun makers. There are 28 such suits pending as local jurisdictions and organizations such as the NAACP attempt to use the same legal strategy that brought the tobacco industry to heel against the firearms industry.

There are an estimated 250 million guns in circulation in this country, with about 4.5 million new ones coming on line each year. Litigants claim that manufacturers keep flooding the market with increasingly lethal weapons, knowing that at least some of those weapons will be used in violent crime. Certain categories of weapons, such as Uzilike semiautomatics, have no other purpose than to be used by sick, cowardly people to intimidate and kill other people.

Similar charges against Big Tobacco seemed ludicrous when they were first leveled. But when lawyers began digging into the industry's files they found evidence that tobacco companies targeted young people, spiked cigarettes with addictive nicotine, and lied repeatedly about the safety of their products.

What will lawyers find when they begin rooting through the gun industry's files?

That some manufacturers consciously target urban gangbangers while others shoot for the paramilitary crowd in the suburbs?

That some manufacturers pay for product placements in movies, just as auto manufacturers and the soft-drink industry pay to have their products conspicuously displayed?

That the industry conducted secret research that concluded that the growth market for gun makers was not with collectors and sportsmen but drug dealers?

Who knows what vicious, cruel, greedy, heartless, wicked decisions are made behind closed doors?

Of course, the industry would rather we not find out. Last month, representatives of gun manufacturers reportedly met in Washington, D.C., to explore ways of heading off the tidal wave of litigation. They discussed settling with opposing attorneys. They considered mandatory safety measures such as safety locks or Colt's "smart gun" concept, designed to prevent anyone from firing a weapon except its owner. Ostensibly, the industry's goal is to help ensure public safety. However, I'm guessing it would also prefer to keep attorneys out of files that might reveal the degree to which gun makers knowingly and deliberately imperiled that safety in the first place.

Colt has decided it doesn't want to take any chances. By opting out of the consumer market entirely, the company is making a statement. It is saying that selling guns to consumers is more trouble to them than it is worth. It won't be long before other major manufacturers follow suit, leaving the business to the sleazy small-time merchants. No self-respecting politician would dare get caught in bed with those types.

And that, my children, will be the end. No more Peacemakers on the streets. At last we'll have peace.

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