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Thursday, January 19th, 2012
Author Profiles

Author Paul M. Barrett on “America’s Gun”

Paul M. Barrett, author of the just-published GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun, is an assistant managing editor and senior feature writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. He is responsible for writing cover articles on subjects that range from the energy industry to the gun business.

I latched on to an advance copy of GLOCK and, through Facebook, told Barrett how much I liked it. This led to email correspondence and Barrett’s generous acceptance of an interview request.

I’d never read a biography of a gun before and found it fascinating.

What ultimately fascinates me is how the gun came out of nowhere and captured the imagination and became a star of Hollywood in the space of a few years. The book is an explanation of how that happened.

What inspired you to write this book? And how come nobody had written this book until now?

I’ve written about the gun industry since late 1990s. The gun industry has always interested me—how it figures in social conflicts in this country. It’s a political symbol, what identifies people as red state or blue state. The gun is completely woven with American history and American culture—the image of the minutemen, cowboys in the old west…guns are just a part of America, whether you love them or hate them. It occurred to me the Glock story was the way to tell the long, unfolding story of the gun in America. The Glock changed so many things since it arrived in the 1980s.

As to why the book hadn’t been written before? The company is extremely secretive. It’s not publicly traded, and it’s not that easy to get information about directly. But over the years I’ve gotten to know people who used to work for them and persuaded them to talk.

The book was just published. What kind of response have you been getting?

The reviews seem positive. There has been tons of attention online, which is wonderful. Popular Mechanics put a piece online today, GQ had a piece, the Huffington Post… Also, the gun media are paying attention. I did an interview today with the host of Gun Talk Radio, Tom Gresham. Some gun people view me with suspicion because I work for the “feared mainstream media.” And Mike Bloomberg, a big gun control proponent, owns the magazine. Once people read the book, they see it in a different light. I’m going to the SHOT trade show in Vegas—a monster event with 50,000 attendees—as part of an author’s panel. It’s something else. You’ve never seen so many guns in one place.

For me, one of the most rewarding things about GLOCK is how you destroyed a lot of gun owner stereotypes. Was that one of your intentions?

Absolutely. I wanted to give people who don’t have much direct exposure to the world of guns a better idea of what it’s like. Even though the book is a biography of one gun and the inventor-manufacturer, I wanted to feature insight into what was appealing to the cops in the late ’80s and ’90s and ordinary civilians. I spent a lot of time going shooting and going to competitions. That was a very self-conscious goal of the book.

What were the most remarkable discoveries you made during the book’s research?

The thing that surprised me was gun control, the efforts to restrict the Glock and how, time after time, these efforts always backfired and ended up helping the company. And how much free marketing, attention and notoriety Glock benefited from. When it showed up here, there was a controversy about sneaking Glocks through airport security, and a congres sional hearing followed. Then people did tests, and the whole thing fizzled away. It’s always interesting to see unintended consequences of public policy. I found it to be a jaw-dropper.

The first time I ever heard the word “Glock” was in the movie Die Hard 2, which you mention in the book along with other appearances of the gun in American pop culture.

That was the Glock’s Dirty Harry moment. At that point, most people hadn’t heard of it. In a very short period of time, people who were fans of television’s Law and Order saw the characters trading in their Smith & Wessons for Glocks. Simultaneously, Tupac Shakur was referring to the Glock by name. It’s one of those odd moments when a product combines with a period when it seemed violent crime would go on forever and gangs were so pervasive in culture. Here was this glamorous weapon that the cops liked, and the cartoon bad guys and big screen action stars liked it. It was coming at America from all angles.

Twenty years later, Bruce Willis has a movie out, Cop Out, with Glock in the (tag line). In one of my favorite movies from last year, The Social Network, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has one of the characters say, “I’m gonna get my Glock out and shoot you.” Not “my gun,” but “my Glock.”

I’m not endorsing the brand. Everything I’m saying is neutral observation. You don’t know where I stand on gun control. But everything is true. The book is not really an advocacy piece on whether people should or shouldn’t own guns. I’m interested in this one cultural phenomenon.

Do you think gun control will be a major issue in this year’s presidential election?

It hasn’t been until now. It’s not a real live issue in politics now. We had the horrendous shooting in Tucson last year, but the gun control proponents’ bills died after that. For the moment, gun control is DOA at a national level. Once we get to the general election, I think the Republican nominee will mention Barack Obama’s “hidden gun control agenda” for his second term. It will be a big deal in certain key states. I think Gore lost in 2000 because of Clinton’s assault weapons ban. The NRA mobilized activists in Tennessee, Gore’s home state, and Arkansas, Clinton’s home state, and Bush won those states. I think that’s the big reason Al Gore lost. Florida was a bit of a red herring.

Any chance you can include sunny Florida on your promotional tour?

I’d love to, but the problem is there isn’t really a coherent tour. We’re being selective, and we have limited resources. Florida isn’t on the schedule, but that’s not to say it couldn’t be. Unfortunately, the nice bookstore where 20 people might come out just isn’t worth the time and effort.