- Feb 27, 2005
- Plymouth, MA
Taking aim at gunmakers
By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist | March 9, 2006
Bob Ricker comes by his negative feelings about the gun lobby about as honestly as a person can. For years, he was one of their own, a top lawyer for the National Rifle Association and, later, a lobbyist for gun manufacturers. When he talks about their tactics, he's describing something he's seen firsthand.
So what's he doing now, criticizing the NRA at every turn and advising Mayor Thomas M. Menino on how the city can stop the flow of illegal firearms?
''I began to see how the industry could and wouldn't do more to keep guns safer and out of the wrong hands," Ricker said yesterday.
It isn't that he is opposed to gun ownership, he said. But he has soured on an industry that refuses to distinguish between hunting rifles and handguns. He began to believe that the NRA was more interested in increasing its political influence than in promoting responsibility.
''The gun rights extremists have created a situation where law enforcement is in jeopardy, urban areas have become shooting galleries," Ricker said. ''More needs to be done about illegal gun trafficking and keeping people safe."
Ricker's epiphany, he said, came after Springfield-based Smith & Wesson reached what was hailed as a landmark agreement with the Clinton administration in 2000. The company, facing multiple liability lawsuits, agreed to put safety locks on guns, improve technology to prevent unauthorized usage, and stop selling guns at gun shows where background checks weren't conducted.
In response, the NRA went ballistic. It called for a boycott of the company that eventually led to its sale, at far below what had been considered market value.
''I saw that as bad for America, bad for sportsmen, and decided it was time to speak out on the issue, " he said.
Ricker has received the treatment someone considered a turncoat might expect. A lot of his former colleagues no longer return his phone calls or meet with him, he said. ''It isn't in their best interest to be seen with me."
Ricker first met with Menino in January and will deliver the keynote speech at a conference on gun violence at Northeastern University tomorrow.
Menino and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York are formulating plans for an eight-member task force that would hold hearings across the country on handguns. Menino said yesterday the two of them hope to make an announcement detailing their plan next month.
Stopping the flow of guns has vexed government for years. We've had gun buyback programs, gun donation programs, a lawsuit by the city against gun manufacturers, among other approaches.
Well-meaning efforts all, but no one would argue that they have taken the guns off the streets.
Because of pressure from the NRA, the federal government no longer devotes the resources it once did to tracing guns, Ricker said. That means that the onus is on local governments to figure out where the guns are coming from.
''They're going to have to work with each other," Rickers said. ''They're going to have to start to develop their own information."
Not that the gun manufacturers should be let off the hook.
''There needs to be more pressure put on the gun industry," he said. Referring to one of the ways convicted felons fraudulently get their hands on guns, he said, ''Clerks in gun stores need more training. If a 21-year-old woman comes in and wants to buy 10 .44-caliber Magnum handguns, a red flag should go up."
Ricker has become executive director of a new group based in Washington, the American Hunters and Shooters Organization, that he says wants to promote responsible gun regulation. He calls it ''the progressive alternative to the NRA."
A lot of factors contribute to gun violence, as Ricker acknowledges. But the industry has never taken its share of responsibility for the carnage, something Ricker hopes to change. ''We need to know that they aren't putting their personal financial interest above the public safety interest of the neighborhood."
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].