Marketing professor studying gun distribution practices

by Dennis Brown

More than 13,500 people are murdered each year with firearms, and guns are used in the commission of some 350,000 violent crimes annually.p. And yet, data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms indicates that “virtually all of the new firearms used in crime first pass through the legitimate distribution system of federally licensed firearms dealers.”p. In an effort to better understand how and why guns sold in compliance with federal regulations by licensed firearms dealers end up in the hands of criminals, a University of Notre Dame marketing professor is conducting a new research project on the distribution and marketing practices of gun manufacturers.p. Gregory T. Gundlach, with a team of MBA students and his Notre Dame colleague Kevin D. Bradford, is gathering data to support ongoing public policy efforts and litigation involving the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence as well as some of the 30 cities nationwide that have incurred costs due to firearms-related injuries. Those costs ? from police response to shootings, to the incarceration of perpetrators, to disability payments for victims ? can exceed $1 million for a single shooting incident.p. The project will focus on three concerns:p. p. ?While the movement of guns from manufacturers to wholesale distributors to dealers and on to the public through retail sales involves federal licensing regulations, there is no similar regulation of secondary sales. There also is no federal limit on the number of guns that can be purchased in a single sale. The result is that “straw purchasers” are able to buy large numbers of guns and resell them without creating a paper trail. In addition, corrupt firearms dealers, working in “kitchen-table” operations, through gun shows or other means, are the source of thousands of new guns entering the market.p. Gundlach and his students will investigate the marketing distribution channel for firearms in the United States, and how guns are diverted in these channels to so-called “prohibited persons,” such as criminals, unauthorized purchasers and/or underage purchasers.p. p. ? A second phase of the research will examine steps taken by manufacturers to safeguard against the illegal diversion of their products to secondary markets. The researchers will study how manufacturers select or reject distributors and retailers who themselves engage in safe distribution and retailing, how they manage or fail to manage these relationships in a way that safeguards against diversion, and how the gun makers terminate or maintain relationships that fail to provide safeguards.p. “Although the firearms industry is aware of the problems with diversion, considerable concern has been voiced that the industry has not taken adequate steps to address the issue,” Gundlach said. “Recently, Smith and Wesson took initial steps in attempting to create a framework of safeguards, however, these are only preliminary actions and other manufacturers appear to be much less inclined to take steps to protect their distribution channels.”p. ? A final area of inquiry will be the study of other products that pose related risks to the public, with a focus on the distribution channels used for these products and steps taken by manufacturers to safeguard them. Industries to be examined include alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, fireworks and automobiles.p. “This is an exciting project that integrates marketing’s understanding of distribution channels and an area of considerable public policy concern and awareness,” Gundlach said. “It serves to further our mission at Notre Dame to facilitate social justice and enhance the common good.”p. Gundlach holds the John W. Berry Sr. Chair in Business and is in his 15th year on the Notre Dame faculty. He studies relationships between marketing distribution and law and is among the nation’s foremost experts on “slotting fees,” the controversial practice of retailers and wholesalers charging manufacturers for the allocation of shelf or warehouse space for the manufacturer’s product.p. He has testified twice before Congress on such matters. In 2000, he testified on behalf of Conwood Co. which claimed U.S. Tobacco Co had used slotting fees and other tactics to monopolize the snuff (or chewing) tobacco marketplace. The testimony helped produce a $1.05-billion verdict against U.S. Tobacco.p. Bradford, an assistant professor of marketing, joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1999. He specializes in the study of sales management, marketing strategy and management, retailing, and marketing research.p. The Brady Center is named in honor of James and Sarah Brady. James Brady was the White House press secretary who was seriously injured in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. Since then, the couple has worked to reduce gun violence and were instrumental in passage of the 1993 legislation, known as the Brady Bill, which requires a five-day waiting period and background checks on handgun purchases.

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