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A Verdict Against Guns & Human Rights

A Verdict Against Guns & Human Rights

by Don Lobo Tiggre

The verdict is in and it’s a catastrophe for Americans—no, not the Senate acquittal of President Clinton; the verdict in the first suit by a city against gun manufacturers. (The president’s acquittal was almost a foregone conclusion—there was no way the Senate could get a two-thirds majority to convict with more than a third of the senators being Democrats and all of them having their own guilty consciences.) No, the real disaster happened the day before the president got away with perjury, when a Brooklyn jury found fifteen firearms manufacturers guilty of negligence in their sales practices and awarded an initial $4 million in damages to a shooting victim.

Following the lead of states that have successfully sued tobacco manufacturers for expenses supposed to derive from citizens’ use of tobacco products, cities including Chicago, New Orleans, Miami (and Dade County), Bridgeport, and Atlanta have filed law suits against gun manufacturers. San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston have been considering filing suit. Even though, according to CNN, the defendants’ lawyers in Brooklyn immediately asked U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein to set aside the verdict or declare a mistrial, gun control nuts across the country are sure to use this verdict to trigger an avalanche of suits that could bury gun manufacturers in red tape for years.

Gun control nuts would like to see all potential victims of violent crime in America stripped of their most effective means of self-defense: their own weapons. Doing so is clearly unConstitutional and just plain wrong, but we defenders of such basic human rights as self-defense should be leery of complacency. Being clearly right is not enough¾ as the massive failure of the tobacco industry to defend itself successfully demonstrated for once and for all. (Mind you, it may be true that tobacco companies manipulated their products to enhance their addictive effects, but that doesn’t diminish in any way the responsibility of the individuals who knowingly and willfully used products that have been called "coffin nails" for more than 100 years.)

But what has true responsibility to do with it? Precious little, now that the trial lawyers of America have realized that suing entire industries can be a cash cow.

Make no mistake, the opposition on this issue is no longer just gun control nuts, who can be relied upon to run afoul of the Constitution in their blind zeal; the money at stake has now attracted the interest of a significant portion of the legal profession. Consider the attack vector followed by the lawyers in the New York case. They did not simply trot out the miserable poster children of "gun violence" and smear the manufacturers as heartless money-grubbing "pushers." They sought out a legal weakness that stays as far away from Constitutional questions as possible: distribution practices that, when linked to patterns of illegal gun use, give the appearance of negligence.

Defenders of the right to keep and bear arms do not help matters by shrilling about the Second Amendment. The lawyers (and gun grabbers) can shake their heads sadly at the antics of such "extremists," saying that the litigation has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, but with gun manufacturers deliberately "flooding" gun friendly markets in order to "force" the guns over borders into places where guns are illegal or more greatly restricted—an "obvious" attempt to circumnavigate the law, right? If extremists think those laws violate the Second Amendment, the argument continues, they’re free to challenge them, but while the laws are on the books, greedy gun companies shouldn’t be allowed to break them. (Never mind that the gun manufacturers are not actually breaking any laws themselves!)

Handguns Are "Toxic Waste Dumped Upstream"

The fact that gun manufacturers have no control over the individuals who do break laws is relevant, of course, but most prospective jurors won’t see it that way. Guns are even less popular in our culture today than tobacco is, and the average American carries a lot more disinformation about guns around in his or her head than he or she does about tobacco. Let’s get real here: where could anyone find a juror who thinks tobacco is healthy? The same mechanism will work against gun manufacturers in case after case, as voir dire will almost surely exclude anyone from jury duty who is truly knowledgeable about firearms.

As happened with the specter of doctored tobacco, the gun manufacturers have been caught with their pants down, as far as the unthinking public is concerned. The manufacturers will readily admit that they don’t try to make sure the guns they sell to licensed dealers don’t flow to places where guns are illegal. Now, an informed person knows that the latter duty really belongs to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. But such a person would almost have to lie to make it onto one of these juries, and the uninformed who do make the jury will take the admission as all they need to "know" to render a guilty verdict.

Defending attorney James Dorr made the argument that has worked for gun manufacturers before: their products work exactly as advertised, and it is unfair to "hold the manufacturers of a lawful, legitimately sold product responsible for acts of outlaws who are totally outside their control.... The case is simply wrong."

This plea fell on deaf ears after the prosecuting attorneys compared handguns to "toxic waste" and accused gun manufacturers of "dumping" them "upstream" from locations where harm has been done. How many average Americans will find much sympathy in their hearts for the manufacturers when the latter admit that they made no effort to try to find or discipline "dishonest" distributors?

I have to admit that I too fell into the complacency I am warning against in this piece. The case seemed logically quite different from the tobacco suits, especially as regards the apparent evidence of genuine wrongdoing on the part of some tobacco companies. Some appear to have found scientific evidence of the dangers of their products, but had that evidence suppressed and made false claims otherwise. It’s not like that with guns, whose makers are being sued in spite of the fact that their products do what they are supposed to do, and in spite of the fact that the manufacturers have not hidden any research, lied, or broken any laws.

I underestimated the opposition. I just couldn’t believe that something so stupid and senseless could win in court—and neither, apparently, did the defense attorneys.

Some champions of the right to self-defense have tried to rally support in state legislatures to pass laws banning such suits. Just such a law has been passed in Georgia. But it’s not enough. There is no way such laws will pass in all fifty state legislatures, particularly those in states with a strong anti-gun sentiment prevailing. Given the number of cities that can bring suit in each state, the threat to gun manufacturers is very real; gun control nuts no longer need to tangle with the Second Amendment; they can just bankrupt gun makers and take a giant stride toward their goal of getting rid of all privately owned guns in the United States.

This growing wave of legal action against gun manufacturers has just become the hottest flash-point in the whole gun debate. This fight may well be the Battle of Gettysburg of the effort to save self-defense in this United States¾ the turning point that decides the overall result. Those who support the human right of self-defense cannot afford to be complacent about the litigation battlefront. The arguments the other side is using for weapons may seem as ludicrous as the insinuation that the makers of ice-picks, baseball bats, cars, candle sticks, ropes, monkey wrenches, and anything else that can be used by murderers are liable for the deaths of murder victims. But we can’t afford to laugh at them one single day longer.

THEY won the first volley!

We must agitate, educate, and fight this onslaught with every weapon in our arsenal of intellectual ammunition, and we must do it NOW, or the issue will have to be settled with brass-encased ammunition.

Don Lobo Tiggre can be found at the Liberty Round Table
and soon at his new site
Doing Freedom

From The Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 3, No 7, Feb. 15, 1999

Printer Version

Resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs, and life, but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature which I have never surrendered to the public by the compact of society, and which perhaps, I could not surrender if I would. — JOHN ADAMS

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