Something a bit different this time — though still a retro review. This one is from February 13, 2012.
While I enjoy occasionally shooting them, I don’t actually read about guns that much. I asked for a review copy of this from Amazon because I was more curious about the history around the gun than the mechanics of the gun.
Review: Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, Paul M. Barrett, 2012.
Initially, the subtitle of this book raised my hackles. When at the range, I’ve seen plenty of people firing handguns not the brainchild of Austrian Gaston Glock. And certainly not every American gun owner has a Glock.
Yet, Barrett ultimately justifies that subtitle. While not every private American gun owner may have a Glock, most state, Federal, and local law enforcement organizations do own them and so do many elite U.S. military units. And, once you throw in the imitators of Glock, the Smith and Wesson Sigmas, the Springfield XDs, and guns made by other manufacturers, the Glock is, indeed, in the majority.
How that happened, the combination of cunning business practices, dead FBI agents, terrorism fears, Hollywood productions, rap music, and honest-to-goodness technological innovation, made the foreign Glock as legendary in the American mind as Colonel Colt’s American revolvers once were is the story Barrett tells and tells concisely and interestingly.
I suspect there will be at least some part of that story new to most readers.
While the rabid Glock cultists who hang out at the online forum glocktalk.com may confuse innovation and high reliability with technological perfection, there is no denying that the Glock pistol brought three important innovations to handguns: a frame of Tenifer polymer to reduce weight which also made production cheaper, fewer parts than its competitors which further lowered cost and increased reliability, and putting a safety on a trigger rather than the traditional positioning on the frame of the gun.
Now anyone with even a passing acquaintance with modern handguns probably knows this already, knows how Glock benefited from the wake of the infamous Miami Shootout of 1986, and knows of the bogus fears that Glock was a “plastic gun” undetectable by airport security. But Barrett, since he isn’t writing a book for gun enthusiasts per se, tells us anyway, and even those who know the broad details of those stories may learn new details. For instance, while I knew the Miami Shootout (which left two FBI agents dead, three permanently crippled, and two others injured before killing two bank robbers) could be seen as an example of bad training in available weapons and the consequences of not using body armor rather than the need to replace six-shot revolvers with 17-round Glocks, I did not know that the two robbers were unusually skilled in combat having received training served either in the Special Forcers or as a military policeman. Nor was I aware, while certain politicians and U.S. government officials were depicting the Glock as a “hijacker’s special”, the FAA and BATF had already debunked the myth of its undetectability at the airport.
What gun enthusiasts might find most interesting here is the history and working of the Glock Company — or, more accurately, whatever corporate entity actually owns and profits from Glock handguns since Gaston Glock created a nest of shell companies to avoid Austrian and American corporate income tax and protect his business from predatory attorneys looking to cash in on – mostly – questionable liability suits including the idea that gun manufacturers should be liable for the damages caused by criminals wielding their products. The man who helped create that international legal camouflage was, eventually, to be involved in an assassination attempt on Glock’s life using, of all things, a rubber mallet. Another highlight of the book is the selection of a stripper – Glock’s American branch is headquarterd in Smyrna, George and lavish corporate entertainment was held at the local Gold Club strip club – to represent the company at a Vegas trade show. She proved surprisingly adept at the theory and use of Mr. Glock’s products. And, of course, there is the fairly well known practice of Glock using a generous gun trade-in policy – as well as the very real value of its product – to make massive inroads into the hearts, minds, and budgets of America’s police departments.
It was this look at the business of Glock firearms – from Glock being a completely novice gun designer (the degree of expertise he gained from Austrians expert in the field is not completely known) – to an international business selling a revered product is what interested me most, and Barrett has long experience covering this as a journalist.
However, both those ignorant and also quite knowledgeable of guns will appreciate Barrett’s technical explanations. Practical experience using a Glock during a combat pistol competition came after being tutored by the well-known defensive handgun trainer Massad Ayoob.
Given how Glock was often at the center of gun control debates, Barrett doesn’t avoid the politics of guns. While he notes that, however much it was the gun mentioned in rap, the actual guns used in the ‘hood were not Glocks and, apart from some high profile mass shootings, Glock was not disproportionately represented in the criminal use of guns. He also shows how Glock, given its huge government contracts, was not always a stalwart defender of Americans’ Second Amendment rights. I think Barrett is too hard on the NRA, but I concede his suggestion that wider availability of state mental health records to screen gun purchasers may be valueable.
So, apart from super diehard Glock enthusiasts who have paid attention to all things Glock and Glock related in the last thirty years, this book should appeal to anyone curious about this legendary weapon.