Friday, March 7, 2014

Perhaps we can reduce the violence by making the guns smarter than the criminals: Phillip Morris


Is it possible to make a safer gun when humans remain as unpredictable and violent as ever?

That’s a question that Donna Weinberger, a psychotherapist from Cleveland, hopes to explore when she travels to the world’s second largest annual gun show in Nuremberg, Germany next week.

It’ll probably be tough to find a more unlikely American than Weinberger in attendance at the massive IWA & Outdoor Classics held each March. She knows virtually nothing about guns and has no interest in owning one. Yet she, along with a determined group of clergy, mental health and community leaders from several Midwestern and Eastern cities, are flying to the gun show Monday, where they will mingle with more than 30,000 hunting and sporting gun enthusiasts from around the world.


They want to help create a drumbeat for technologically safer guns. They want more weapons manufacturers to at least consider making and marketing biometrically advanced guns that will only fire in the hand of the registered owner – a move they believe would drastically reduce the volume of stolen firearms on the market.

The activist group won’t have a shopping list. But they will have a wish list of meetings. Namely, they’re hoping to finagle conversations with a few European gun manufacturers -- SIG Sauer, Glock, Beretta -- to see if it's possible to develop a financially feasible strategy to reduce the number of lives lost in firearm-related death by reducing the number of illegal arms flooding America’s streets.

It won’t be an easy sell. They’re walking into the lion’s den and they know it. But too many people are dying daily of firearm wounds in places like Greater Cleveland. They believe correctly that a different kind of conversation is needed with the people who make guns.

“We’re not going over there as anti-gun people. We’re hoping to position ourselves as an emerging market of people, who simply want gun manufacturers to think about an economic model where they can make money by producing guns that are less likely to end up in the underground market,” said Weinberger.

She understands the carnage well. She counseled students who were directly affected by the 2012 shooting at Chardon High School.

“We’re not going to Nuremberg to point finger or lecture. We’re simply trying to advance a conversation about safer guns that result in fewer murders, while allowing for a business that can still produce a strong bottom line,” she told me Wednesday.

There is no industry that is more sensitive to outside interference than the people who make guns and munitions.

The powerful gun lobbies have made it largely a futile attempt to use state legislatures or Congress to push through measures that would force domestic gun makers to create a “safer” gun, if one really exists.Gun manufacturers, especially those stateside, have been notoriously resistant to any outside influences pushing them to develop any technologies that might prevent non-authorized users from firing a weapon.

An example of the hair-trigger nature of the munitions industry when a legislature does act was seen last month, when Magpul Industries, a Colorado-based firearms accessory manufacturer, announced that it was moving its 200-job operation to Wyoming and Texas. The move happened after the Colorado legislature passed a law that the company believes limits its ability to sell ammunition magazines for high-velocity rifles.

The Colorado law, coming on the heels of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people were killed, created a climate in which the company found too many regulatory restrictions. So now it’s taking its jobs to what it believes are much friendlier gun states.

So the question that remains worth exploring is whether there is a middle ground on the issues of guns, profit, public safety and crime? Are there better technologies available to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and the mentally ill, while allowing a vital, protected industry to continue to flourish?

Can a market demand be created for these so-called safe guns? And must this demand be driven by non-domestic gun manufacturers, who are more accustomed to dealing with governments that routinely place greater restrictions on their product?

The Greater Cleveland Congregations, a non-partisan group of faith communities representing more than 40 congregations and 20,000 people, hopes that it can continue to be a driver for this important conversation. That’s why it’s sending Weinberger to the German gun show.

But talk is cheap and guns in the wrong hands remains deadly.

The real questions are how many more billions of dollars must Americans spend each year alone for the hospitalization of those injured by gunfire?

How many more tens-of-thousands of people must die annually before we realize that perhaps there is a smarter way to keep powerful weapons out of the hands of the dumb or the criminally insane?

That is a conversation and crusade that must continue.