Wintemute: I think that line of argument is totally bogus on several
grounds, one of which has just been added, frankly, in the last few
weeks...First off, by analogy, why don't we set up double standards for motor
vehicles. Let's have safe reliable cars for rich people and let's have poor
unreliable cars that don't meet minimum federal safety standards for poor
people, because you can make them more poorly.
Nobody would tolerate such a proposal being made sincerely, but that's
precisely the situation that we have, the situation that Congress created
thirty years ago with the Gun Control Act of 1968.
The handgun market, in particular, has been following very much in the steps of
the cigarette industry. In the mid-1980's, as had happened with the cigarette
industry, handgun sales crashed. As the cigarette industry had done before
them, the handgun industry went looking for the source of the problem. They
determined, as the cigarette industry have, that they had saturated their
traditional market and they needed to go looking for new markets.
One of the markets they identified was women. Like any other consumer product,
marketing research was done. It was learned that this potential new market was
intimidated by the weight and feel of traditional handguns. The product was
redesigned. It was made smaller, lighter. It was made--feminine colors if you
will. There are guns these days that come with pink grips and purple grips.
There are guns named the Lady Smith, the Lady Elite, and so forth. It hasn't
worked, by the way, with regard to women.
But the handgun industry exhibit all the behaviors of a consumer product
Q: What consumer product safety guidelines are there in the handgun industry
Wintemute: One of the truly remarkable facts about this whole story is that
there are almost no standards regarding the design, the performance, the
safety, the reliability of handguns made here in the United States. Although,
there are literally dozens of those standards for handguns that are made in
other countries and imported here.
There are a couple of exceptions and they're fairly recent. These days you can
no longer make a handgun that has an ammunition capacity of more than ten
rounds. That ammunition limit was set as part of the 1994 crime bill. But the
basic consumer protection framework that people have come to know and rely upon
for everything from motor vehicles to teddy bears simply does not exist. And
it does not exist as a result of conscious and deliberate action taken by
Congress in the 1960's.
Q: What did Congress do?
Wintemute: Let me sketch a bigger picture here. In the 1960's two things
were happening. Motor vehicle fatality rates were very high and climbing. Our
focus in those days was on the behavior of the nut behind the wheel. And in
the 1960's, for the first time since early in this century, death rates from
firearm violence were also skyrocketing.
In the former case, with motor vehicles, Congress decided to take an entirely
different approach to the problem. To focus not just on the behavior of people
who use motor vehicles, but to focus on the product. We now are the
beneficiaries of literally hundreds of safety standards for cars, trucks, how
roads are built, all of which are relatively new and all of which, taken
together, have cut the motor vehicle death rate in half.
Best estimate that if we, these days, were subject to the same sort of
mortality rates that pertained before this change, in the 1960's, there would
be a hundred thousand people dying in motor vehicle crashes in the United
States every year. Instead, there are a forty thousand. It's still a lot, but
it's a lot less than it could have been.
Back to handguns. Again, rising rates in the late 1960's, the same policy
makers who adopted that sort of broader approach with regard to motor vehicle
injuries, elected not to adopt that approach with regard to firearm violence to
maintain an almost exclusive focus on the behavior of people used this product,
who used guns, with one exception.
In the 1960's, there was anecdotal evidence that was probably valid, that there
was a particular class of handguns that were being used not just frequently,
but disproportionately, in crime. Saturday Night Specials. That's when we
first heard the term. A Detroit police captain coined it.
Those guns were cheap, unreliable, small caliber revolvers in those days, and
imported. Key point. Congress--an act of legislation under which the Treasury
Department, the ATF, banned the importation of Saturday Night Specials, but
Congress consciously, deliberately, with debate, with forethought, chose not to
apply those standards to guns made in the United States. They still don't
Two years after the Gun Control Act of 1968 is enacted, George Jennings is in
business with Raven Arms in Southern California and the rest is history.
Q: Let's get into that history.
Wintemute: So the particular story we're talking about starts with a man
named George Jennings, who is running a company that makes aircraft machine
parts in the late 1960's. Gun Control Act of 1968 passes. George Jennings
spends about $50,000, retools from the making of aircraft parts to the making
of a .25 caliber pistol, the Raven 25, and he's in business by 1970.
We've talked about 'The Ring of Fire', a group of companies that happens to be
located all in Southern California. They are located close to one another for,
among other reasons, the fact that most of them are controlled by members of the same family. George Jennings' son, Bruce, learns the trade from dad,
splits off in 1978 to found his own company, Jennings Firearms. Bruce's
sister, Gail, splits off with her husband, Jim Davis, who's George Jenning's
plant manager, to found Davis Industries in 1982.
Things go fairly well for a while--but then these three companies start to
compete with one another. And then on to the market also comes a high-school
buddy of Bruce Jennings, by the name of Jim Waldorf, who decides there's room
for me too, and he goes into business making the same sort of guns. His plant
manager is the disaffected brother John, of Jim Davis, husband to Gail
Jennings, daughter to George Jennings. Not to leave out George's nephew Steve,
who also founds a company that never got very big and has since gone out of
production. It's one family.
Q: Why is this an industry that is so tightly controlled by one family,
given the profits that are out there? You would think there would be a lot of
competition to get into this market.
Wintemute: It's an interesting question. And nobody knows for sure. I
have some ideas about it. First off, there had been a Saturday Night Special
industry of sorts, assembling the parts of guns that were made overseas and so
forth; that industry had mostly been located in Florida.
Not only did the loophole that made that industry possible get closed by
Congress, but several of those companies got involved in very nasty product
liability suits. I think there was probably some concern about that happening
again. So, maybe some of the potential players were a little reticent.
Number two, these companies here in Southern California, once they were
established, grew like crazy. And it may be that other potential players
decided not to buck that trend.
And finally, I personally believe this to be the case: at least until fairly
recently, some of the companies that you might expect to have gone into
competition, companies like Smith and Wesson and Colt and Beretta, chose not to
enter the low end of the market...Whether it was because they'd been in
business for up to 500 years and had a reputation to protect, or whether they
were concerned simply that producing cheap guns might tarnish the reputation of
the good guns that they made. I think those companies chose not to compete.
Q: What got you into this?
Wintemute: [I]t's actually very simple. I'm an ER doc. I practice
emergency medicine, and I used to do it full time. It occurred to me as it
does to many people in that specialty that it's not enough just to treat
trauma. We need to prevent it. And that's particularly the case with regard
to firearm trauma, gunshot wounds. And here's why.
Even in these days, in big cities with regionalized fancy trauma systems, most
of the people who die after being shot never even make it to an emergency
department. They die where they're shot. And of those people who do make it
into the emergency medical system, a trauma team and all of that, of those who
die, better than 95% die within the first 24 hours.
And what that says to me and to a lot of other people is that we're probably
already saving pretty much all the lives we're going to be able to say through
advances in medical care. And if we want to expand our ability to save people
from dying from a gunshot wound, we need to keep them from getting shot in the
first place. And that's why so many people in emergency medicine and trauma
are involved in the prevention side as well as the treatment side.
Q: One of the things that some law enforcement people have said is that they
fear that by banning those guns, you force these companies...to produce more
lethal guns. Is that a concern of yours?
Wintemute: That train's already left the station. For the Ring of Fire
companies in particular, all of the growth in their production, from the late
80's through 1993 when they was in their production of medium-caliber guns.
The small- caliber Saturday Night Special is probably finished. It's just
going to take a while for it actually to disappear, is my guess...If suddenly,
inexpensive guns were not available...And if then, there was suddenly a lot
more demand for the more expensive guns, those guns would then become even more
expensive and some people would probably be priced out of the market...Bruce
Jennings, among others, is showing us that you can inexpensively make guns that
meet those importation criteria.
Q: It sounds like we have a trend where cheaper, more powerful, more
efficient, easier to use guns--all the work you're doing to try to reduce gun
violence is coming up against market trends that are leading something that
will create more serious gun violence.
Wintemute: That's right. Here's the scariest possible scenario, I think.
That as a result of all of those factors, we'll have available, in large number
and therefore probably relatively inexpensively, guns that are more powerful,
more reliable, easier to use, more accurate than concealable handguns have been
And those guns are going to be coming onto the market, continues the scary
scenario, precisely at a time when, over the next few years, there is again an
explosion in the number of teenagers and adults in our population.
We're all aware, and it's a wonderful thing, that rates of violent crime have
been dropping for several years. It may, unfortunately, be the case that
that's largely simply because there aren't many people in that high-risk age
group around right now, compared to historical trends. But they're coming back
and they may arrive at about the same time that these guns do.
However, I'm not sure that it's going to happen, and here's why: the new
concealed weapons laws have been on the books for a number of years now in
quite a few states; that new market, all those people who are going to get a
permit and go out and buy a gun, doesn't seem to have materialized.
Handgun sales have been going down very sharply for several years now. If that
new market had shown up at the counter, that wouldn't have happened. I don't
know where we're headed.
Q: Tell me who Jim Waldorf [is] and what his contribution to the gun
[market] has been.
Wintemute: Jim Waldorf came into this business as a high school buddy of
Bruce Jennings, the owner of Jennings Firearms. He founded Lorcin Engineering
in 1989 with a member of the Jennings family as his plant manager. For several
years, Jim Waldorf was easily the most public of the senior member of this
clan. He was willing to talk to the media and so forth. He seemed to enjoy
And his company was far and away the fastest growing of all of the Ring of Fire
companies from the moment it started operation in 1989 until 1993. I think
also Jim Waldorf probably gets a lot of the credit for this entire group of
companies move into medium caliber pistol production.
But since 1993 his company has taken as a great a hit as any of the others.
It's production in 1995 is a quarter of what it was in 1993. Bruce Jennings
told me he thinks Lorcin Engineering will be out of business by the middle of
Q: Let's go back a few years, when Lorcin started out, and describe what
their contributions were at the time, both in terms of product and marketing.
Wintemute:...When Lorcin started, they took an approach that differed from
that taken by the companies that had begun earlier. The earlier companies
started making one kind of gun, and then sort of gradually blossomed. Lorcin
started doing it all at once...They were the first of the companies, as I
recall, to very explicitly target their products in part toward women. They
have a famous ad with three of their pistols, one with a pearl-handled grip,
one with a pink grip; and the caption on the ad is "Three little ladies that
get the job done." It's an ad that appears in Women and Guns, but in other
magazines as well.
And, in particular, they focused more than the other companies had, certainly
in their early years, on medium caliber guns. I think Jim Waldorf may have
seen before anybody else did that if they were going to continue in business,
they needed to be part of this arms race that we're all witnessing. That they
needed to be able to produce, for the same price, a gun that was substantially
more powerful than the guns with which they were competing. The .22s and the
.25s. And they pulled that off.
Q: Does the ATF do an effective job in regulating the gun industry, in your
Wintemute:...Unfortunately, I don't think that ATF does an effective job of
regulating the firearm industry. It's clearly not their fault. There are
very, very strict limits set on what they're allowed to do. They are
attempting to regulate an industry with one hand and several other fingers tied
behind their back. The last time they tried to make a serious effort to
regulate not just the industry, but even illegal commerce in firearms, there
was a serious effort made to abolish them altogether.
To give you one example, we've talked about the fact there are no designer
performance standards for guns made in the United States. If ATF identifies a
gun as defective--let's say, for example, if you drop it a short distance on to
a table or something, it will fire; they canít do anything about that.
They can notify the company...and they can make that notification public if
they choose to. But they have absolutely no authority to compel that
manufacturer to repair that defect in the design of the gun.
Q: Talk about their ability to trace guns and how they are restricted in
Wintemute: ATF has been tied to archaic technology to try and identify guns
that have been used in crime, to trace them. For example, a tracing request
ATF has no registry of guns that have been sold. They're forbidden by law
from keeping such a registry. There is no central registry of handguns. ATF,
if they've got a gun and they have the serial number, they have to contact the
manufacturer...And the manufacturer hopefully can tell them. Sometimes that's
not the case.
They then have to call that, usually wholesaler...And then they get to a
dealer. And then hopefully the dealer will have records. And then from there
they have to basically go on foot and try and track that gun one step at a
Q: It sounds inefficient.
Wintemute: It's tremendously inefficient. And it's inefficient by design.
They are prevented, legislatively, from using more modern methods to trace
guns. They are prevented, legislatively, from having anything that might look
like a central registry of guns that have been sold.
Q: With all the concern about crime, and the legislation we see passed to
deal with crime, why is there legislation that actively prevents ATF from
tracing crime guns?
Wintemute: It is the firearms industry--and firearms users have had very
powerful friends in Congress and on occasion very powerful friends in the White
House. Some of the young firebrand in the House of Representatives, who made
it his personal goal in the 1970's to be sure that the consumer product safety
commission had no authority over firearms. The member of the House of
Representatives, whos board member of the National Rifle Association, was John
Dingle. John Dingle still sits in the House of Representatives and still, when
it's possible for him, blocks legislation that might set up some of the things
that we've been talking about.
There's a professional sportsmen's Congress, supported by the firearms industry
and related industries. A huge number of members of Congress belong to that
special interest group. The firearms industry, traditionally, didn't even have
to do a lot of lobbying. They had this tremendously powerful users group, the
National Rifle Association, who did all the dirty work for them...They've
[firearms industry] formed a new industry association, which very aggressively
promotes a pro-firearms industry agenda, even where that sometimes differs from
the agenda of the NRA, interestingly enough.
Q: What is your reaction to the fact that someone could steal six thousand
guns out of Lorcin Engineers?
Wintemute: I'm not surprised. Let me give you a contrast. I've been to
Lorcin on more than one occasion and have parked my car and just walked up to
an open door, on the other side of which, was their production facility. I
didn't walk in, but I clearly could have done that. It was a relatively open
plant. It's in a light industry area in San Bernardino county. Its next door
neighbor for a while was an L.A. Times office. This is not heavy
industry we're talking about here.
Let me give you the contrast, Smith and Wesson. Go to Smith and Wesson,
hundreds and hundred of yards away from the manufacturing facility, you
encounter a gate. You do not get through that gate without clearance of the
very burly, very well-informed and electronically connected security guard,
whoís in a block house. And if you did get in, you'd have a hard time
getting into the plant. Most of Smith and Wesson's plant is underground, for
security reasons. It was built at a time when they were worried about its
destruction as an act of war. But Smith and Wesson is like a fortress. Lorcin
is an open facility.
Q: Is it that [these] companies don't care?
Wintemute:...I think, and this is not unique to Lorcin, that these companies
feel no sense of responsibility for what happens to their products once those
products leaves the loading docks.
I don't think that's an ethical way to do business in any sort of product. I
don't care whether it's a firearm, a blender, a car. It makes no difference.
Q:...Is there a [connection] between this casual disregard for the
manufacturing procedure, the security, and where the guns end up...?
Wintemute: I think that the link between the company's attitude and where the
guns end up exists and it's indirect, though. The link is that attitude leads
them to make a kind of gun that ends up, I argue, disproportionately involved
in crime. I'm not personally aware of any evidence that the management of
these companies deliberately manufactures guns for use in crime. It appears
not to bother them particularly, but I don't think they're deliberately doing
Q:...[D]o you think [the Mendoza case] is a typical story of how the illicit
market is fueled.
Wintemute: It's not typical. It's a very large theft. Most thefts of guns
in the commercial chain of possession are much smaller than this. But I think,
as we've discussed, if the fact that this theft could occur over time and at
such magnitude, highlights what appear to be shoddy practices of, of inventory
control, if nothing else, at one particular plant. It also, I think, as we're
finding over and over again, the guns that were stolen showing up in crime all
over the country. I think it also serves to highlight the disproportionate
role that guns from Lorcin and other similar companies play in firearms
violence throughout the United States.
Q: Talk about the study you conducted.
Wintemute: Our study focused on legal purchases of hand guns by young adults
- people aged 21 to 25. In our study population, we have people, some with a
prior criminal records and some without. Now, in general we know that people
with a criminal past are more likely than others to commit new crime in the
future. So, we had two questions we wanted to answer with this study.
Number one, do people with a criminal past buy different kind of handgun then
do people without a criminal past? And it turned out that the answer was yes.
That, among these young adults, those who had a prior criminal record were
about forty percent more likely--1.4 times as likely--to buy a Saturday Night
Special, as were people with no criminal past... The results were adjusted for
race. They were adjusted for gender...The second question the study was
designed to answer was this-- after taking account of gender and race and the
nature of any prior criminal history, are people who buy Saturday Night
Specials more likely--or for that matter, less likely--than people who buy
other kinds of hand guns to do new crime?
And what we found in general, was that people who bought Saturday Night
Specials were more likely to do new crime than were people who bought other
kinds of hand guns. We didn't always find that, but we found it in most cases.
And, in particular, we found that for people who had no prior criminal record,
those who bought a Saturday Night Special were 80% more likely--1.8 times as
likely--to do a new crime, specifically involving guns or violence, as were
people who bought other kinds of guns...To me, the single most important
finding here, perhaps, is that for these people with no prior criminal record,
purchase of a Saturday Night Special appears to be clearly linked to a
substantial increase in risk of beginning a criminal career, having that first
arrest for, particularly, a crime involving firearms or violence. There's been
anecdotal evidence for years that these guns constitute what are known
colloquially as "Starter Set Guns," that they're a bad guys first gun. Well,
this suggests that that's really true...[T]hat's one implication that we can
hopefully pursue with further research.
Q: Was it not surprising the [Lorcin's] L380 is at the top of the [ATF's]
most traced list?
Wintemute: In our analysis we specifically looked at a known number of guns
made by each company in a defined period of time so that we could look at the
risk per gun if you will of being involved in crime regardless of the number of
guns any particular company made. And it was on that basis that we found that
guns from the Ring of Fire companies were more than 3 times as likely to show
up in ATF's tracing data as were guns from other major manufacturers. So,
sure, if it were the case that the only thing driving the frequency with which
Lorcin's guns showed up in BATF's tracing. So if it were the case that the only
thing driving the frequency with which Lorcin's guns showed up in ATF's tracing
data was the number of guns they made [but] that's not the only factor. There
are other lines of evidence. We don't have to just look at tracing data...But
when we took into account the number of guns that had been sold in the state in
the years leading up to 1993 by individual caliber we then were able to show to
the Justice Department that 9mm handguns were actually, on a risk per gun basis
were actually least likely to end up in the hands of local law enforcement
agencies and the various Saturday night specials calibers 25 and 32 and
380 were anywhere from 2-4 times more likely on a risk per gun basis to end up
in the hands of local law enforcement than were 9mm guns. Their trying to have
us ignore the really crucial question which is what's the risk per gun
made of involvement in crime. And on that basis Lorcin and the other 'Ring of
Fire' manufacturers are a breed apart.
Q: Is there a clear relationship between the price and quality of a gun and
it's likelihood to be used in a crime?
Wintemute: I'm going to give you the sort of two-handed scientist answer to
that. Most of the studies have contrasted expensive guns, $300 and up, most of
which are medium or large caliber and of very high quality manufacture with
junk guns, small inexpensive handguns and so forth. If the question is which
category is at greatest risk, risk per gun, for it being used in a crime, the
answer is unequivocally small inexpensive handguns.
However, that kind of analysis has not been done specifically for a particular
crime that concerns us all the most--and that's homicide. One of the
differences between these guns is that these big expensive guns are a lot more
powerful than the small inexpensive guns. Now, there are these days some not
so small medium caliber still pretty inexpensive guns that still occupy a
middle position here. My guess is that if we did such a study and our interest
was specifically in homicide we might not find that same relationship simply
because people can get shot a lot of times with a Raven 25 and survive. They
get shot many times with a Baretta 9 they're probably gonna go down. However,
there are some places, and I'll site as an example, an article in the Journal
of the American Medical Association describing Milwaukee, where the single gun
most frequently used in homicide was the Raven 25. A small caliber, relatively
not powerful handgun. The authors best guess was that this weapon was being
used so often in assaultive violence that even though perhaps most of the
shooting are not fatal because it's not such a powerful gun, it still turns out
to be the number one homicide gun in Milwaukee.
Q: You've described guns as a basic consumer product--which is an
interesting perspective on it. Can you just explain to me what you mean by
Wintemute: Many of us have come to the position that firearms really are a
consumer product. They're increasingly marketed for personal or household use.
They have a defined role in the house: to provide protection, influence.
But it's important to emphasize that, in this case, [our project] we're not
talking about something that ordinary people would perceive as anti-gun. We're
talking about impartial research on risk factors for, and ways to prevent,
firearm violence. Research we do with CDC money addresses criminal behavior -
not guns. And that research is subject to this same funding cut. I think it's
gotten a little bit easier because there is now a high profile industry
lobbying group. They come and meet with members of Congress openly, which
didn't used to occur. Over the last few years with the Republican Congress,
and in particular with Newt Gingrich's Gun Policy Task Force--it's become
easier to see whose responsible for specific language, getting involved at a
specific point in time.