Guns, Platforms, the Circular Economy and ‘an Immodest Proposal’


Note: This is a work of satire, inspired by Jonathan Swift's essay of a similar title.  

I’m not really into guns. But a high school buddy of mine--whom I personally respect--is a very responsible gun enthusiast. In fact, when I visit my hometown in Connecticut this summer, my old friend is going to teach me how to fire a Glock at a local shooting range. I’m jazzed. And I will probably end up buying a Glock that is best suited to me (see Glock chart above).

But I digress. The reason I am writing this post — the procurement analyst that I am — is that I recently ran across a post that really made me think. The post, Why I “Need” an AR-15, brought something to my attention that I would never have imagined. Not only is the AR-15 not the gun used by the Orlando shooter, which was, as the blogger reports, a “gun that looks like an AR-15 (it’s technically a Sig Sauer MCX, which may or may not be an ‘AR-15’).” But, to my surprise, the AR-15 is actually a platform. Sick!, as my millennial son might say.

“The AR-15,” the blogger points out, “is less a model of rifle than it is an open-source, modular weapons platform that can be customized for a whole range of applications, from small pest control to taking out 500-pound feral hogs to urban combat. Everything about an individual AR-15 can be changed with aftermarket parts — the caliber of ammunition, recoil, range, weight, length, hold and grip, and on and on."

And where there is smoke, there is fire. The power of any platform, its economic and innovation effects, lies ultimately in its ecosystem:

"Thus the locus of innovation in the AR-15 ecosystem is now moving to the civilian side of the industry, as shooters in new niches take up the rifle and leave their own mark on it through tweaking and innovation."

But not only have civilians benefited from the military's use of the firearm, remarkably the reverse has also been true:

"The military, in turn, has benefited directly from the fresh civilian money flowing into the AR-15 market. As companies and innovation multiplied in the AR-15 space, the AR-15 platform as a whole became even more modular, ergonomic and effective. Much like the military, civilian AR shooters are on a never-ending quest for improvements in accuracy, reliability and comfort, and there are a few orders of magnitude more of the latter group than the former."

So what we are really talking about here is the much-vaunted circular economy, or sharing economy, contemporaries of the gig and on demand economies. Back to this in a moment.

The power of “platform thinking” should not be underestimated. A “product platform” can support many variants and derivative products that address the needs of different market segments (in this case, “shooters in new niches”). But this is just the beginning — a “digital platform-based business” (like an Uber) can scale, promote innovation and create new value for customers and platform owners.

Here at Spend Matters, we like to think not just about what “is,” but also about what “could be.” So let me present my “immodest proposal.”

If we can have an Uber for riders, I ask myself, why couldn't we have an "Uber" for shooters with conveniently placed, electronically-accessible weapons lockers? We could even put these lockers or dispensers of rentable weapons into the trunks or backseats of Uber cars (which will eventually become autonomous). Gun manufacturers should love the idea of easier and more affordable access (gun-as-a-service, or GaaS) which will expand their market of "shooters" to those who cannot afford a gun or only need one for special occasions (like a wedding or a dinner at an Italian clam house in the Bronx).

Surely there will be the concerns among the gun manufacturers as to all of the electronic tracking data about guns and users. But once the boundless value of this marketing intelligence is understood by the gun makers, these concerns should melt and be replaced by more sanguine sentiments.

In conclusion, while I am just “shooting from the hip” here, I think my immodest proposal has merit. And why not? Why shouldn’t we go all out, leveraging platforms to create new markets, increase consumer surplus and support the public good — to produce a win-win for all involved?

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