February 20, 2008
The Media's Newest Manufactured Gun Controversy
Back in 1986, Time and other news organizations attempted to whip up hysteria about a new firearm on the market, the Glock 17, attempting to state that it could pass easily though airport metal detectors, and therefore become a favored weapon for terrorists or hijackers:
Noel Koch, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, recently left his Pentagon office toting an overnight bag and rode to Washington's National Airport. Koch breezed through three airport metal detectors and into the departure lounge. That was as far as he planned to go. Inside his carry-on bag, Koch had concealed a 9-mm handgun that weighs only 23 oz. and is made partly of superhardened plastic. When disassembled, the Austrian-made weapon, known as the Glock 17, does not look like a firearm. Only its barrel, slide and springs, which are metal, show up on airport scanners. The polymer handgrip, trigger guard and ammunition clip that complete its profile as a gun do not set off the security devices.
High-technology weapons have created a terrifying dilemma for airport officials in their war against terrorists. Already, new guns made entirely of plastic are being developed. Easily concealable handguns like the Glock, along with hard-to-detect components for putty-like explosives that are also readily available, give air pirates an edge that officials are finding increasingly difficult to counter.
The manufactured Glock hysteria was of course false; the barrel, slide, sights, and of course the pistol cartridges themselves are made of dense metals, and the promised "new guns made entirely of plastic" have never materialized on the consumer market.
Yesterday I ran across another attempt to create a false hysteria, this time about painted guns.
The CNN.com video story from affiliate KPNX reporter Brahim Resnik in Phoenix warns about the evils of painted guns, specifically firearms they state are painted like children's toys. The reporter gets support from Bryan Soller of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police.
"Somebody points it at an officer, and he hesitates, at which point he could get shot, or worse, the officer could react and take the life of a child..."
The reporter then keys in on Jims Gun Supply, one of dozens, if not hundreds, of retailers that offers Duracoat a firearms refinishing paint that comes in almost any color, and is typically used to refinish firearms, providing a self-lubricating, durable finish that provides rust-protection, camouflage and/or a custom look.
The story opens by focusing on a "Hello Kitty" themed AK-pattern rifle in pink and black, and then shows a picture of the company web site's photo page, and then going on to assert that "But the larger worry is that children being drawn to candy-cane colors..."
The story then transitions to a teacher, who states, "Just being a teacher, any child would think that was a toy..."
The story, just 63 seconds long, ends with a voiceover by what appears to be the same AZFOP official featured earlier in the report.
"Apparently it is legal. It's frightening to law enforcement."
The obvious point of the story is to frighten parents into thinking that their children could easily come across a real weapon that they think is a toy, and that law enforcement officers could either kill a child carrying a Durocoated firearm, or be shot by a criminal armed with one. Is is a story that manufactures a controversy out of a nonexistent problem.
Duracoat is primarily purchased by law enforcement and military customers, but it has a growing following among hunters (who typically prefer matte or camouflage) and sport shooters (who sometimes select bold color schemes) and others that want a unique look for their firearms.
This manufactured controversy is not new. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg gave it a go in 2006, and the newspapers treated him like the idiot he was (PDF).
Common sense goes a long way towards debunking this story, but as we know, that is all too often in short supply in our country's media. Let's take this story apart, focusing on the two main claims.
Brightly-painted Durocoated firearms are a threat to children.
If you bother to Google Durocoat and have any knowledge of the kinds of firearms you'll typically see receiving a professionally applied Durocoat finish, you'll quickly note that while any firearm can be Durocoated, the overwhelming majority of those featured are firearms that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars even before being Durocoated.
People who care that much about their firearms are not going to leave them laying around for children to find as the story falsely implies. After that much of an investment in the base firearm and the additional cost of having ti professionally refinished, owners will typically secured these firearms in gun safes or make sure they are otherwise protected, as would be any expensive investment.
There are precisely zero documented incidents of a child finding a Durocoated firearm and playing with one, or of law enforcement officers firing up a child carry a Durocoated weapon.
A far more common and realistic threat
We do know, though, that parents buy their children hundreds of thousands of airsoft guns every year, firearms that often are to the naked eye nearly exact copies of real firearms.
Other than a plastic or painted orange tip on many models, these firearms found commonly at retail outlets and sold by the dozens to suburban children are the same size, weight, and shape of real firearms, have realistic actions and moving parts, and can be had as cheaply as $25, or less.
In far wider circulation that Durocoated firearms, these fake weapons are far more likely to be encountered by police, or used by criminals without easy access to real firearms, but who can purchase a plastic copy and a can of black spray paint to cover the orange cover without any problems at all.
And yes they have been used in crime... by children and adults as well. Both of these linked incidents came with in the past two weeks, but the reporter would rather focus on an unlikely potential tragedy that has never apparently occurred.
Brightly-painted Durocoated firearms are a threat to police.
If realistic airsoft guns—one of the most sought-after Christmas gifts in 2007— aren't filling our nation's morgues with the bodies of children mistaken for thugs by our law enforcement agencies, why are Durocoated firearms—even those with bright colors and odd color schemes—a greater threat?
When I was a child (and going back generations), cap guns that looked and sounded almost exactly like real firearms were commonplace as a staple of a young man's toy box.
Likewise, criminals have been modifying firearms for years for various reasons, including spray painting them to look like children's toys, for many years. I even recall seeing an episode of COPS (or perhaps a show like it) where a pump shotgun recovered in a gang raid had been spray-painted to look like a SuperSoaker water gun, complete with an empty soda bottle on top faking the water tank.
There are millions of fake guns that look real, and it is easy for a criminal to conceal a weapon, make a real gun look fake, or even disguise it as another object entirely.
How do law enforcement officers deal with such an issue? Despite the hysteria assisted by Bryan Soller of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police (who apparently doesn't trust Arizona police officers not to shoot citizens with concealed carry permits, either), it comes down to the elements of proper training, situational awareness, and common sense.
Its sad how often those elements are absent when incompetently researched or flatly biased firearms-related stories hit the media, all too often scaring the public with false controversies and unrealistic threats. Sadly, like nearly ubiquitous airsoft guns, this incompetence and bias in the media is something we've become accustomed to over time.
Update: Say Uncle has more.