Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review of Paul M. Barrett's Glock: The Rise of America's Gun

    Here is my commentary on Paul M. Barrett's book Glock: The Rise of America's Gun

     In the early 1980sThe Austrian army needed a new sidearm.  Concealed carry began a seismic shift from
     forbidden to accepted, one US State at a time.The world, particuarly America, needed a modern,   
    high-capacity 9 milimeter pistol even though it didn't know it yet.

     Gaston Glock stood at the confluence of these trends. Like many hyper-successful
     businessmen, he had the right combination of lucky timing and ambition.

     One such patch of luck occurred when he overheard a conversation between Austrian
     army officers, discovering that their military was looking for a more modern sidearm.

     Already a small-scale manufacturer, Glock brought together just the right tooling
     and expertise.  Never having made guns, or even fired that many before, as a designer
     he was unencumbered by notions of "this is how it was always done, this is how it should be
     done."  Beginning with this tabula rasa, he received "wish list" input from military folk with
     an interest in the results.  After a fairly brief round of prototyping
     Glock was ready to sell his creation:  a simple, reliable firearm that quickly won
     over the Austrian military and went on to dominate American law enforcement and civilian

     It is a sterling example of function over form.  To call a Glock "handsome"
     would be quite the overstatement, lacking either either the pencil barreled
     elegance of classic Smith and Wesson revolvers, or the slab-sided blue steeled
     masculinity of the 1911. 

     But the damned thing works. 

     As a company Glock could hardly be in a better position.  The polymer frame and minimal
     parts content mean less precision machining to do and commensurate lower labor costs.
     High margins *and* high volume give Gaston's firm amazing cash flow.

     Spectacular cash flow hides a multitude of sins, and Barrett's book brings to light many
     that can be tied to Glock's company and the manner in which it operates.
     Volume sales deals closed with stip club outings; byzantine shell companies designed to
     minimize taxes paid; internecine conflict within the company including a spectacularly
     unsuccessful plot to murder Glock himself.

     Not to mention some negligent discharge and weapon detonation incidents in which
     the firm used its massive legal muscle to make sure the lawsuit payouts were parsimonious
     and bad publicity minimal.

     Tales of meteoric business success are often fun to read, and as someone who is definitely
     a "gunnie" the book is doubly pleasurable.

     I have mixed feelings about Barrett's book because even as it presents an intriguing
     business story mixed with some adroitly told firearm history, it weaves in aspects
     of the American gun culture, some not always positive.

     When talking about the NRA's lobbying efforts during the Glock era, Barrett seems
     to describe the organization as "no compromise."  The NRA has often yielded ground
     on firearm control legislation, earning itself the alternative moniker of "Negotiate
     Rights Away."

     Unlike a lot of members of the "mainstream media" Barrett's writing
     bears out some real research.  In his writing, he makes sure to use proper terminology.
     Also absent is a tone of contempt for shooting sports enthusiasts in the aggregate.
     At the end of the day I think he's mildly bemused by the strength of the American affinity
     for guns, while also not exactly sure what to do about "gun violence."  I detected some support
     for magazine capacity limits and possibly for gun registration.

    I also admire his pluck in writing both his Businessweek stories on the company and the book itself -  
    Gaston Glock is a fairly enigmatic man, who spawned an equally enigmatic corporation whose byzantine
    layers must have been difficult to penetrate.    

     I have a bit of backstory with the book's author.

     I enjoyed his dryly factual Businessweek story about Glock as a company back in 2010,
     and was upset at what seemed to be an anti-Glock, anti-gun "slam" piece published shortly
     after the horrific Tucson shooting of Janurary 2011.
     Businessweek published the letter I wrote in response to his story, but little did I know that
     I would get to meet him and converse with him at a Reno, Nevada gathering called the Gun Blogger
     It was an affable and most civilized conversation.  Mr. Barrett actually enjoys shooting
     and upon looking into the process for acquiring a New York City pistol permit, got a taste of just
     how onerous and unpleasant gun control can be.

     Sadly, I think that a lot of my fellow "gunnies" will pigeonhole this book simply because the author
     is a New Yorker that writes for Bloomberg Businessweek. 
     I think that's unfortunate and unfair, because at the end of the day, it's an informative and entertaining
     look into a company whose products bear the stamp of "Perfection," which is achieved so unevenly
     as both a company and a gun.  And despite both its good points and flaws, the love for the Glock
     continues unabated.






  1. Aaron: Thank you for reading my book and writing this engaging review. Obviously we do not agree on everything related to guns and gun ownership. But we do agree that shooting is fun and that the story of GLOCK in America reveals a great deal about the business of manufacturing and marketing firearms -- not to mention American popular culture.
    Best, Paul Barrett

  2. I found the book quite interesting; there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes of which most people were unaware.