EDITORIAL: Putting squeeze on gun-makers could help curb Chicago’s gun violence

SHARE EDITORIAL: Putting squeeze on gun-makers could help curb Chicago’s gun violence

Smith & Wesson handguns are displayed during a National Rifle Association meeting in Dallas on May 5. | Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If a gun shop does a lousy job of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, police officers shouldn’t buy their guns from those shops.

If a gun-maker allows its guns to be sold at those lousy shops, the police shouldn’t buy those makes of guns.

And if a gun manufacturer does a lousy job of making guns that are childproof and useless to thieves, the cops should pass on buying those guns, too.


This is about following the money. One potentially effective strategy to reduce gun violence in Chicago and our nation, though underused, is to put the squeeze on gun-makers and dealers to make safer guns and better regulate their sale. And the way to put the squeeze on them is to threaten their profits.

Chicago could do a better job of this. So could almost every suburb, town and city. Pension fund investors could do a better job. And we — the voters and the shareholders and the pensioners — could do a better job of pressuring elected officials and investment fund managers to make it happen.

31 bullets is a Chicago Sun-Times campaign identifying 31 specific actions Illinoisians can take to curb gun violence locally and nationwide. | Graphic design by Ogilvy & Mather Chicago

31 bullets is a Chicago Sun-Times campaign identifying 31 specific actions Illinoisians can take to curb gun violence locally and nationwide. | Graphic design by Ogilvy & Mather Chicago

As part of our “31 bullets” editorial campaign to stop needless gun deaths, we support ratcheting up pressure on gun-makers. To find out more about this campaign, including how you can help, please go to 31bullets.suntimes.com.

A remarkable case study in how we can press gun-makers played out earlier this month at a shareholders meeting of a major American gun company, Sturm, Ruger & Co.

The shareholders, fed up with getting the silent treatment from management, passed a resolution requiring the company to issue a report on its actions to reduce the harm associated with its guns. What, for example, was the gun-maker doing to develop biometric trigger locks, such as a thumbprint, for guns? Was the gun-maker’s distribution chain weeding out “bad apple” dealers that feed the crime gun market?

The resolution was drafted by a group of religious leaders — the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility — and a grassroots advocacy group — the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation — that had tried for years to get Sturm, Ruger to discuss such safety measures. Getting nowhere, the two groups bought stock in the gun company. Then, as shareholders, they convinced bigger shareholders, such as the investment firms of BlackRock and Vanguard, to join them in demanding the report on gun safety.

Sturm, Ruger’s CEO shrugged off the significance of the shareholders’ demand. All he was being asked to do, he said, was write “a report.” But, in truth, it was no small matter at all. For the first time, Sturm, Ruger was being forced to spell out what it is doing, or not doing, to counter the scourge of gun violence. The report will mark a beginning of greater corporate accountability.

As it happens, gun manufacturers could do much more to counter gun violence. They could create a first-rate network of retailers, selling their guns only through dealers that maintain the highest standards of record-keeping, employee training and cooperation with law enforcement.

Gun-makers could create programs to repurchase used guns to keep them in responsible hands. They could offer attractive prices to gun owners who want to sell their guns back, then resell those guns through responsible dealers.

They could invest in more research and development to bring safer guns to market, and they could educate gun buyers on the importance of reporting lost or stolen guns to the police.

For its part, the Chicago Police Department could do more to encourage a more responsible gun industry by creating a list of “approved dealers” from which officers can buy their guns. Other local police departments could also choose to buy guns only from the most socially responsible dealers.

The mayor’s office tells us that their preferred strategy is keep the pressure on the state Legislature and the governor to pass and sign a bill creating a state license for gun dealers. Then the city would allow police officers to buy guns only from those certified dealers.

We favor such a state license, too. It would make it easier for the state to crack down on bad dealers. But the more directly we put the pressure on, the more effective that pressure will be — and a CPD list of “approved dealers” would make a profound statement. That’s money on the line. Other people buying guns could be encouraged to use the same list.

Chicago and Cook County have made laudable efforts to track gun sales and, in other ways, discourage illegal gun sales. Most notably, the city tracks all crime guns recovered by the police to see which gun shops sold them. The city also recently released a report of the make of the guns used. As it turns out, Smith & Wesson guns were the most often recovered by the police, followed by Sturm, Ruger guns.

Cook County has banned the sale and possession of assault weapons and imposed a per-unit tax of up to 5 cents (it adds up) on bullets and a $25 extra charge on firearms. In addition, the county medical examiner’s office posts all its gun violence data online for use by journalists and academics.

But is this enough? When children are dying, nothing can be enough.

As a city, county and state, we can bring the fight against gun violence directly to the gun-makers and dealers, leveraging the power of our money, if only we have the will.

Send your ideas about how to curb gun violence to letters@suntimes.com.

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