Glock Brand Spiel: How An Exotic Austrian Pistol Became a Staple Of American Pop Culture (and Massacres)

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It’s a misleading headline, to be sure: “Glock Pistol Sales Surge in Aftermath of Arizona Shootings.”

If the editors intended to make it appear as if Glock sales surged because consumers wanted the same gun that was used in the recent Arizona shootings, one might even call it maliciously misleading. But the Bloomberg report was technically correct: Glock sales in Arizona have surged following the incident… along with sales of all handgun brands. Glock was one of the best-selling gun brands before the incident, so a surge in sales overall means a comparatively larger surge in Glock sales. Rinse. Repeat.

More interesting is how Glock, a gun brand that just two decades ago cost “more than you make in a month,” became one of the most mass-marketed brands in the U.S.[more]

Indeed, its brand story arc, which oddly mirrors BMW’s, involves heavy product placement, urban legend, and the irony of Americans patriotically defending 2nd Amendment Constitutional rights with a European name.

The Bloomberg report notes that one-day handguns sales increased about 5% nationally on Jan. 10, two days after the shooting. Arizona handgun sales that day jumped 60%. Bloomberg adds, “Arizona gun dealers say that among the biggest sellers over the past two days is the Glock 19 made by privately held Glock GmbH, based in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria, the model used in the shooting.”

That Americans buy more guns in response to an incident of irresponsible gun use is not news. In the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, where a Glock was also used, reports noted a similar uptick. As Texas’ Midland Reporter-Telegram noted, “In the first week after the tragedy, Midland gun dealer Tommy ‘Hoss Fly’ Atchison saw his gun sales increase by a significant percentage.”

The Glock emerged after a 1980 call by the Austrian armed forces for a next generation sidearm. The gun it finally selected in 1982, the Glock 17, was unique in that it was made with a nylon synthetic called Polymer 2, not metal. Oddly enough, in a firearm industry full of brand legacies and incredible firearm pedigrees, at the time it won the military contract Glock Ges.m.b.H. had only manufactured synthetic polymers, never weapons.

Austria ordered 30,000 in 1983. A year later, Norway placed its order. In 1985, Glock Inc. opened offices in Smyrna, Georgia and began enthusiastically marketing to law enforcement. One tactic was to give product away to cops in hopes of word getting around.

Today Glock is the select firearm brand of law enforcement and military personnel from Australia to Brazil to Finland to Indonesia. Since the model 17, Glock has introduced a variety of other guns, including the 19, 20, 24, 26, 27, 29 and 34, amongst others. Some of these models are just variants of other models, and most maintain the identifiable squared-off boxy profile of the original Glock 17.

Glock’s new manufacturing process is what led to whispers in the U.S. about an astoundingly cool “German” pistol that airport metal detectors couldn’t catch. In fact, the legend was so widely believed that in 1988 Congress held hearings on banning the Glock. Federal Aviation Administration experts were dragged in to testify that the gun was, in fact, easily detectable. But then, in 1990 a blockbuster movie reinforced the urban legend and the myth of a Glock “ceramic barrel.” It was completely false but the Glock myth-making in the US had begun. It was the sexy, exotic, mysterious foreigner — and if you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it.

Glock has no greater friend than actor Bruce Willis. The 1990 film Die Hard 2 made Glock a household name amongst even anti-gun advocates. In the film, fast-talking and faster shooting John McClain talks about a “Glock 7” as a “porcelain gun made in Germany” that “doesn’t show up on airport metal detectors” and which “costs more than you make in a month.” As noted, this so-called “ceramic” Glock never existed. In fact, the Glock in the film was a Glock 17.  Yet, to this day, the ceramic barrel myth persists.

But details, details; ten years after establishing its American office in Georgia, Glock was selling 20,000 guns a month in the U.S., despite steep sticker prices.

Product placement, it would turn out, became one of Glock’s greatest advertising mediums.

Glock’s first big product placement reinforced the myth of its uniqueness. In an impossible role, it was the gun carried by Cuban revolutionaries in an episode of the TV series Miami Vice. Subsequent years would see an explosion of Glocks in films.

Its star turn in Die Hard 2 was not lost on Glock. By the mid 1990s, Glock was more proactive about its movie roles, putting free or nearly free product in film producers’ hands. Rumors have it that Glock paid an undisclosed amount for a scene in The Fugitive-sequel US Marshals, where Tommy Lee Jones refers to Robert Downey Jr’s gun as a “sissy pistol” and tells him to “‘get yourself a Glock.” Later in the film Downey shows his new gun to Jones: “Yeah, Glock .40, just like yours”. US Marshals is noteworthy for another round of Glock urban legend-making, as Jones states that Glocks can fire underwater.

A year later, in End of Days, Arnold Schwarzenegger seethed, “Between your faith and my Glock 9 milimeter, I take my Glock.” That year would end with the brand having sold 2 million Glocks and claiming a 7% general market share (50% market share with law enforcement); impressive for a brand that was unheard of 15 years earlier when it first arrived.

In TV and movies today, there’s still a constant barrage of Glocks. A few recent placements include Bourne Ultimatum, Num3ers, Breaking Bad, The Other Guys, NCIS Los Angeles, and Kick-Ass. It’s also a staple in hip-hop, where “Glock” is referenced in such songs as “Hand on My Glock” and 2Pac’s “Bury Me a G” (“Comin’ home at six o’clock in the mornin’, hands on ma’ Glock”).

The poster (above) for the 2010 film Cop Out sees Willis (again) with the tagline, “Rock out with your Glock out.” In the 2010 film Killers, Ashton Kutcher mentions his Glock in his nightstand. Moreover, a Chatroulette viral campaign for the film features Kutcher loading and aiming his Glock (below). The viral probably did more for the Glock brand than it did for the film.

Many audience members probably shrug at all these placements; but firearm aficionados certainly notice: “I thought Jessica Alba carried a Glock 19 in Machete…”

Glock continues to quietly play to its onscreen strengths. For example, former Marine and popular character actor from cult firearm films like Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Emey is part of the brand’s “Team Glock.” On Emey’s Team Glock page, Glock even makes note of his Full Metal Jacket role, defending his drill instructor character as preparing young men “to face death and cheat it.”

Liberal Hollywood would probably rather not talk about its role in promoting gun culture, and especially not its invlved role in basically making advertisements for specific models of guns. For example, Drew Barrymore is a signatory to the Prevent Gun Violence petition, yet she not only produced and starred in the film Charlie’s Angels, a huge ad for the Desert Eagle handgun brand, but also appeared in a film titled Guncrazy.

Of course, as Glock popularity rose, prices fell. In 1985, a Glock sold for about $460, which, adjusting for inflation is about $900 today. (Other popular pistols like the model 1911 retailed for under $200 at that time). In this respect, German pistols were largely regarded like German cars, as expensive prestige purchases.

But then, the same way BMW began to introduce “luxury for all” models available for just over $30,000, Glock began pricing its handguns competitively. Today, you can purchase a Glock for $450 or less in the U.S. — about the same, or even less, than a quality-brand model 1911, and no longer “as much as you make in a month.”

While the brand maintains a quality reputation, it is hardly the sort of whispered myth of its earlier days. In gun forums it’s not unusual to see the Glock referred to as “tactical Tupperware” or similar. But sales are way up, even before the Arizona shooting. Glock reported a first quarter 2010 sales increase of 71% meaning the odds are good that the brand name mentioned in conjunction with the next mass shooting will be “Glock.”

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