Keep the Canary Alive

Congress finally did something right, and we should all applaud. The Senate and the House passed a law that shields gun manufacturers from politically-motivated lawsuits.

I just read a rant by a liberal columnist on the subject, and as usual, in his hysteria, he got the facts wrong. The new law, which President Bush is expected to sign, does not exempt gun manufacturers from lawsuits. If they produce a defective product that causes injury, they can still be sued. All the new law does is put them on a level playing field with every other manufacturer.

You hear a lot about the gun lobby, mainly the National Rifle Association, of which I am proud to be a life member. There is also, however, an anti-gun lobby that over time has masqueraded under different names. Its goal is to abolish the private ownership of firearms. The lobby doesn’t openly admit it, but that’s its aim.

With rare exceptions in a few cities and states in which no decent American should live, the anti-gun lobby has failed miserably through the democratic process. If the lobby was honest, which it is not, it would simply seek the repeal of the Second Amendment. Instead, it tries roundabout ways to accomplish the goal of disarming the populace.

Lawsuits against gun manufacturers were intended to bankrupt the companies. These lawsuits were so ridiculous that if we had a decent class of judges, they would have been thrown out without even a hearing. A mayor in New Orleans some years ago sued gun manufacturers in an attempt to blame them for the city’s sorry crime rate. Other suits try to blame the manufacturers for the actions of criminals in individual cases.

Before America’s exceedingly excessive number of lawyers corrupted the civil-court system, the principles involved in liability were simple and logical. You can’t be held liable for something over which you have no control. A manufacturer has no control over or even knowledge of the behavior of the end user of his product. The fact that these lawsuits were politically motivated is shown by the absence of such suits against other manufacturers.

Nobody has sued Ford Motor Co. because some Ford owner uses his car to rob banks or kidnap children or run down pedestrians. Nor should you be able to sue Smith & Wesson because some crackhead uses one of its pistols to commit murder. As I said, all of these lawsuits should have been immediately dismissed, but because of the low quality of so many judges, many of them were not. Even when the manufacturers win, as they have so far, the legal costs are exorbitant. And that was the strategy of the anti-gun lobby — to bleed the companies with endless lawsuits.

America’s gun manufacturers produce some of the highest-quality products in the world. They are safe. Manufacturers sell to wholesalers, who sell to retailers, who in turn sell to individual customers. Some of these suits tried to blame manufacturers for the actions of retailers. That was stupid on its face.

All gun retailers in the United States are licensed and regulated by the federal government. Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have the authority to walk into any retailer at any time without notice and thoroughly inspect all of the records and inventory. If any retailer is engaged in hanky-panky, and the overwhelming majority are not, that is the fault and responsibility of the federal government, not the manufacturer.

To buy the anti-gun ploy would be like holding General Motors responsible for the behavior of every used-car salesman who sold a secondhand GM car. Responsibility and control of the actions of gun retailers lie squarely with the federal government and the retailers themselves, not with manufacturers.

Machiavelli once remarked that the Swiss were the "most armed and most free" people in Europe. When the day comes that your government tells you it is forbidden for you to own and keep a firearm, you will no longer be living in a free country. A government that is afraid of its own citizens is undemocratic and authoritarian. The Second Amendment is the canary that monitors our freedom. When it dies, freedom dies. Even if you don’t wish to own a firearm, you should join the National Rifle Association and defend the Second Amendment against those who want the government to have a monopoly on force.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.