Bring back manufacturer liability

I listened to an interview on VPR’s “Fresh Air” this afternoon, concerning the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.  

Apparently in the last few months, the town had been grappling with the question of whether or not something had to be done about the proliferation of informal shooting ranges in residential areas, and random semi-automatic gunfire for recreational purposes.  

There had been such a growth in these activities that the town was divided between those who wanted more regulation and those who insisted regulation would violate their constitutional rights.

What I found arresting about this revelation was the fact that not even a week before the shootings, an almost identical controversy in Highgate, Vermont was reported on by Michelle Monroe in the Messenger.  

As in Connecticut, locals are divided between those who are concerned for their own safety and that of their children, due to the risk of stray bullets; and those who feel they are well within their rights to use their land as they see fit.  

There is heat in both communities over the issue; heat that almost never leads to tighter regulation, unless something like the Newtown shootings results in instant conversion to the cause.

But there is another interested party, an outside interest, which holds much of the power in these local skirmishes. That interested party is comprised of gun and munitions manufacturers, who enforce their hegemony over the gun debate through political activities of the NRA and similar organizations.

A gun manufacturer’s primary interest rests in selling more guns.  Like the manufacturers of cars, clothing and potato chips, their fortune lies in convincing us that one is never enough.  

But since the fundamental purpose of a gun is to kill,  the best marketing scheme must necessarily involve ramped-up kill potential, coupled with a heavy dose of good old fashioned paranoia.  From the multiple market saturations that have been achieved by the munitions industry, we can conclude that their marketing scheme is a lulu.

So while we’re distracted by the nearly impossible task of reconciling public safety with Second Amendment arguments; those guys are making out like bandits.  Thanks to the double edge of paranoia (to mix a metaphor) their cup is overflowing.

On the one hand, gun owners are reminded endlessly that  civilized people might at any time decide that enough is enough and put restrictions on gun sales.  On the other, since their market saturation has been so successful, new recruits can always be had through the argument that the only way to be safe against guns is to have a bigger one.

The Cold War may be over, but the Domestic Arms Race is burgeoning.

We are missing our biggest opportunity to stem the tide of assault weapons: manufacturer liability.   That boat sailed way back in 2005 when Republicans, with not inconsiderable Democratic support and under cover of post-9/11 paranoia,  pushed through a measure to essentially indemnify the gun industry from all liability associated with gun violence.

That was stupid to the nth degree.

Until gun manufacturers have some skin in the game when it comes to gun-violence prevention, they will continue providing consumers with ever newer and deadlier toys.  And they will continue to promote a culture of gun-worship and paranoia that will only worsen with time.  This is their business model, and it works;  just as “Joe Camel” and the “doctor” recommendations worked to make Big Tobacco the rich and powerful industry it was before Americans decided they’d had enough of lung cancer deaths.

It’s time to go back to some liability for gun manufacturers in the event of gun violence.  If they don’t want us to limit the “right to bear arms,”  then they should have to accept the victims’ “right to bear torts.”

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

12 thoughts on “Bring back manufacturer liability

  1. “But since the fundamental purpose of a gun is to kill”

    For me, this is not the fundamental purpose of a gun. My connection to my guns has little to do with “kill”. I don’t deny its potential to kill, but its purpose in my life is more than its functional capability.  

  2. That is the key phrase in the whole piece.

    Think about Fairbanks Scales. You’ve seen them around – a 2’x3′ platform on little steel wheels, with a column on one end supporting a cross bar and weights. All iron and oak, no springs. They built those things to last a hundred years. And they did, which was a market saturation problem. It almost bankrupted them.

    A moderately well made firearm, moderately well maintained, can last a century and more. There’s a gun for every human being in the US, but less than half of households have one. A smallish percentage of the population has been stockpiling. But there’s a limit, right? Well, not if the (insert “other” group)-apocalypse is coming.

    Just like the alcohol industry doesn’t make its money from responsible drinkers, the gun industry doesn’t really rely on hunters. Stockpilers buy multiple firearms, while criminals and wars chew them up. About 15% of newly purchased firearms end up on crime scenes within a decade. That’s 1/7 of revenue, and an ongoing demand.

    In a sane world the firearms manufacturers would be on their third bankruptcies by now. Because of their political influence and effective propaganda they are doing fine. They are getting a bit hoarse and ragged at this point, though. The “Obama hasn’t done anything or said anything so he’s lulling us into a false sense of security” argument has been pulled out. Given his lukewarm response to Sandy Hook I’d say they have little to worry about.

  3. right up there with points made in ‘A Modest Proposal’


    and another outstanding piece on many levels.

    A sad fact of life & cold hard truth is that unless the risk of a ___ (fill in the blank) is a liability to the owner, many ppl simply do not care if it is of detriment or injurious to others. Irresponsible dog (I love dogs) owners allow dogs to jump on guests, neighbors & even bite making jawdropping remarks such as ‘he’s just protecting us’ or ‘once he gets to know you he’s fine’.

    Because auto insurance is so costly, most drivers recognize that driving will be extremely costly & even unaffordable if the driver is irresponsible enough to receive enough points & repeated violations. And, driver could lose license & be unable to drive for a considerable amount of time if ever.

    I would like to see the same system which has been proposed by others here on GMD, that weapons be insured. The liability on vehicles is in part due to the safety aspect, like guns, they also have the potential to kill, maim & injure for life.

    All guns & similiar weapons should be monitored, no more pawnshop or gun show sales or other unregulated venues. Private & all other sales would be exactly like a vehicle sale to keep track of all weapons. Liability for owners as well as vendors & manufacturers.

    Underwriters for insurance companies I’m quite sure would do a fantastic job of monetizing the risk. Surely the cost of owning assault & automatic weapons could & would price many out of the market entirely. Unregistered guns, dishonest vendors would carry a mandatory jail sentence rather than a mere fine which is simply written off as a ‘business cost’. Nothing against the NRA, but I’m quite sure they would finally break silence in face of new regulation enacted.

    As a Faux host proclaims it’s “The cost of freedom”.  

  4. The people of this country gotta be the most well armed populace on Earth.  Scary.  A gun for ‘protection’ is what?  ANY SHRINKS OUT THERE?  A gun is…feeling safe…control…empowerment?  I’ve owned plenty of guns.  Sold off my last revolver years ago.  Now I’m going to buy another revolver (been thinking about it for over a year).  But WHY?  I want to buy another gun because…I can…because it’s easy…because, when I have it, it will be THERE, like Everest.  So many things you can do with a gun.  Kill yourself.  Kill others.  Kill innocent animals.  Make shitloads of noise and terrorize your neighbors.  Say:  “Don’t fuck with me, I’m carryin’ heat!”  Shoot your way into your house when you forget your keys.  Yeah.

    Shit.  EVERY SINGLE TIME I’ve held a gun in my hand, I knew first and foremost that I had the power to end a life.  That’s pretty heavy psychological stuff.  A GUN IS FOR KILLING.  Target practice is about how to be GOOD AT KILLING.  Simple shit.

    It’s way past time for Americans to own-up to the fact that we whip out our guns far too often and readily–and I’m not even going into the sex stuff, which is about death and violence too.  But we do it because it has become AMERICAN to do it.  And sometimes, no matter how many rounds we fire off, like in Vietnam, the other guy will be able to take us down with one clean shot.

    When you buy a gun because you’re afraid, well, that’s not going to take away the fear, just add to it.  Maybe I’ll buy a painting instead.

    And I’m really pissed, as always, when this gun debate comes up.  The fucking Planet is dying, and instead of addressing Global Warming, Obama’s gonna get side-tracked on the GREAT GUN CONTROL ISSUE.  America’s a nutcase on the couch and the therapist doesn’t have a license–he just keeps collecting his FEE.    

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