NRA Strategy: Divide and Conquer

Okay; let’s try this again.

The NRA is saying that background checks won’t work because criminals will get the guns somehow anyway. They still insist we should arm every school in the nation.

I suppose an extension of this idea would be to require all movie theaters to have armed guards.  How about churches, daycare centers, and mega-super-grocery stores?

How far does this idea extend, and who pays for all of this arming-up?

We know who profits if this proposal is adopted.  It’s a win-win for the gun industry.

Let’s set aside, for a moment, all of the Second Amendment discussion that accompanies any proposal to limit access to guns; because the NRA and its manufacturing backers are successfully using that hot-button topic to distract us from who really holds control over the guns in this country.

As I wrote before, I think there is a better way to go about reducing gun violence in America: manufacturer liability.  

Why is there no push to make manufacturers responsible for ensuring that their products do not wind up in the wrong hands?  I see it mentioned here and there by other writers,  but the NRA seems to have succeeded in deflecting everyone’s attention to the unwinnable Second Amendment debate.

They know well how to divide and conquer.

Weapons manufacturers have no skin in the game.  They profit no matter who gets hurt. Sometimes even more so when a mass shooting like Connecticut sets off a weapons buying frenzy.  

With the threat of liability restored among gun-makers, I guarantee that they and the NRA will come up with some cunning new ways to limit the industry’s exposure to risk, which will, collaterally, serve to reduce gun violence.  I don’t know how they’ll do it.  I just have every confidence that they will.  

Why is the American public staked-out to assume all of the risk associated with a manufacturer’s extremely profitable product?

Senators Leahy and Sanders; Congressman Welch: how about it?

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.

14 thoughts on “NRA Strategy: Divide and Conquer

  1. identifying the right people to whom to sell guns.  I’d carry that down the line to the arms dealers themselves.  Let them be the ones to propose registration as a safeguard.

  2. How about the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages? Should those manufacturers be exposed to the threat of liability, too?

    Manufacturers of alcoholic beverages produce a product that is legally sold by beer “dealers” throughout the nation. Hypothetically, let say an alcohol dealer (a bartender or store clerk) sells the manufacturer’s alcohol to an underage person who then goes out and hurts themselves and/or others. Should the manufacturer of the alcohol be held liable because they’re the ones who produced the alcohol? Or, do we instead hold the dealer accountable because they’re run afoul of the laws that have been established in order to create a legal process that minimizes the risk for this legal, but legally limited, transaction of the manufacturers product? It’s worth noting that there are currently federal limits on gun sales by dealers. For example, any person who would elect to purchase a firearm at the Powder Horn in Williston will necessarily be subjected to a federal government check prior to the transaction. The process for gun sales is much the same as the protections established by each state to ensure that those purchasing alcohol are legally permitted to do so. See this publication from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that references our “Federal Firearms Regulations”:

    The 3rd Restatement of Torts distinguishes products liability between three major types of product liability claims; manufacturing defect; design defect, and a failure to warn.  How would a manufacturer of firearms be held liable?

    1. The firearms gun manufacturers produce aren’t defectively manufactured, they’re used by the vast majority of their owners in a safe and lawfully permitted way.

    2. These firearms don’t have design defects; they work exactly as they’re intended to.

    3. Even those who know nothing of firearms know their potential which constitutes “warning”.

    What you appear to be seeking is a way for manufacturers to be held liable for the potential of their product. If that’s the case, which other manufacturers of potentially deadly products should victims’ have a “right to bear torts” against?

  3. I’d like to see the ban lifted on the Consumer Product Safety Commission overseeing firearms. They are strictly forbidden. It’s a cliche in some circles, but a teddy bear gets more oversight than a handgun.

    When you buy, let’s say, an electric hedge trimmer, the CPSC makes sure that 1) It won’t turn on unless you pull the trigger, 2) it won’t fall apart when you pull the trigger, and 3) if such a device slips through, it will be recalled.

    This is not the case with firearms. There are firearms that will discharge when dropped or jarred. I was reading an article in a gun mag about a test of a revolver that had to be stopped because the gun literally fell apart in the tester’s hands after 12 shots. It’s ridiculous that such a product was allowed onto the market. It’s probably still out there, along with any number of poorly made guns. There are a number of semi-auto firearms with a history of malfunctioning and burst firing extra rounds.

    The manufacturers should be on the hook for this. But kestrel is absolutely right, the dealers should be on the hook for who they sell to, just like bar owners selling to minors.

    If you look at the stats on how many dealers sell how many firearms that end up on crime scenes, it gets obvious. About 0.2% of dealers are behind about 50% of the firearms that end up on crime scenes. Most dealers have less than a half dozen such sales. A mechanism that chokes off that supply would get my vote.

  4. I am so glad you asked.

    Firearms belong to a unique class of products that are designed and intended to kill and injure.  And before you start-in about target-shooting, let me just add that even though they can be used in this non-lethal way, no one is the least bit unsure as to their designed-for function.

    Old guys in Hawaiian shirts ride lawn-mowers in close-order drill, but no one would say that is is their designed-for function.

    I assume we are in agreement that there are relatively few products other than guns that belong to this distinctive category of intentionally lethal products.  Even hunting knives do not fall under this category, as they are used for skinning and other utility purposes.  Poisons like arsenic are compounds used for many non-lethal purposes, so they would not fall under the same rules.

    We clearly have a problem with this purely lethal product falling into the wrong hands; yet, gun lobbyists oppose any new regulations whatsoever on the arguable basis of the Second Amendment.  What recourse are the American people left with other than to impose specific liability rules upon manufacturers of intentionally deadly  products?

    If you would insist that a huge portion of gun sales are solely for target practice, then let the manufacturers invent a way to make them unusable for anything else, and then those guns could be sold free of liability.

    Everything from mayonnaise to trampolines entails some amount of exposure for manufacturers to liability.  Why should the fact that arms manufacturers intend their products to be deadly indemnify them from collateral responsibility when they are used for wrongful death and injury…especially when the manufacturers so actively lobby to  frustrate all efforts to limit the number of these lethal products that are in circulation?


  5. but unless manufacturers are on the hook, too, none of their ingenuity will be devoted to reducing the risk.  

    Right now, they are devoting far too much of that ingenuity to making sure that guns get into as many hands as possible, and to obstructing any change whatsoever to the status quo.

    I find it utterly incredible when they say that they are committed to responsible gun use.  Their profits go way up every time irresponsible gun use makes headline news.

  6. Good morning, Sue. Thanks for the dialogue.

    let me just add that even though they can be used in this non-lethal way, no one is the least bit unsure as to their designed-for function.

    I assume we are in agreement that there are relatively few products other than guns that belong to this distinctive category of intentionally lethal products.

    According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2009 there were an estimated 310 million firearms in circulation in the United States (not including weapons on military bases), of which 114 million were handguns, 110 million were rifles, and 86 million were shotguns. And, according to the U.S. Census bureau projections there are approximately 315 million residents in the United States.

    In the same year the CRS issued its estimate on firearms that I cited above, within the United States there were 31,672 firearms deaths. While admittedly too high, the number of firearms deaths in that year amounted to roughly .01 percent of the number of firearms projected to be owned by civilians in the United States in the same year.

    That means that even though there have been multiple high profile cases of firearms murders, the incredibly undeniable truth is that 99.99% of the firearms owned by U.S. citizens were either being used in a “non-lethal way”, at least as it pertains to human lethality. To date, I haven’t heard anyone argue that there is a constitutionally permitted way (or need) to ban firearms for another one of their potential uses, hunting and/or target shooting. If the “designed for function” is, as you claim, “intentional lethality”, then the numbers suggest that gun manufacturers have failed miserably.

    Again, you persistently write about the potential of a firearm while attributing its sole function as “intentionally lethal”. That’s as demonstrably false as saying that alcohol manufacturers are creating an “intentionally lethal” product because it has the potential to be misused, and in fact leads to the death of many more people than death by firearm.

    We can’t really have a conversation about what should be done regarding gun control, which I believe is necessary, if we can’t even agree that there’s a fundamental difference between intention and potential.

  7. You can’t change the simple fact that guns are designed to inflict injury and kill.

    Some are designed specifically to be used for hunting and would be awkward for anything else.  

    If you are arguing that manufacturer liability shouldn’t be considered unless and until the weapons are more routinely applied to their designed-for purpose, I think that is a rather warped perspective.

    I think establishing a line of consequence for manufacturers and distributors is a pretty cool-headed approach to a problem that needs solving, without entering the Second Amendment briar patch.

    I would welcome your solution; but if it only goes so far as saying “enforce existing laws,” without specifics as to how this will be newly accomplished, I won’t be impressed.

  8. I can, have and will again. You should read my post titled, “Intention vs. Potential”.

    If a drunken person were to hop in an automobile this afternoon and mow down twenty-six people on Church Street, would you support a call for manufacturers of automobiles to “have skin in the game” because it’s possible for the automobiles they produce to be used in such a manner? Does the behavior of the individual somehow change the automobile manufacturer’s “intention”? Clearly it doesn’t. Automobiles are intended to be driven lawfully and are therefore manufactured with that intention in mind, even though the potential for misuse exists. Its potential to be a killing machine doesn’t then make the automobile manufacturers liable for the unintended use of the automobile to kill people by an individual.

  9. The gun manufacturers do have interlocking problems. They are selling an extremely durable product to a shrinking (aging) demographic. The generational trend is looking bad for them. Aside from getting existing owners to buy more, crime and war are the two markets they can access to eat up firearms. About 15% of newly purchased firearms end up on crime scenes within a decade. That’s market share that no manufacturer would voluntarily give up. Gun crime isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

    In strictly economic terms, ammunition manufacturers have to like semi-autos over other mechanisms – more product used up faster. The accessory manufacturers must like the military style weapons – nobody really tricks out a hunting rifle. A scope and a sling and you’re done. An AR-15 is like Barbie – the accessories will suck up the cash.

    I get gunny catalogs in the mail. One I just received had no prices on the ammunition, which struck me as odd. I looked on their website and 95% of the 223/5.56 ammunition was sold out. They also had a banner with an apology for slow order response due to high volume. The industry is playing NRA members like Guitar Hero. They should send Obama and Biden each a fruit basket with a thank you card.  

  10. Yeah, Sue, if we impose liability on gun manufacturers for certain ‘military’ weapons, I’d bet money a lot of those weapons would disappear from certain marketplaces, mainly regular sporting goods stores.  You’d still be able to get them–just not in a ‘walk into store and carry out’ way.  Liability will have no teeth however if they make it so the consumer has co-liability–that’s what they’ll go for to kill liability.  But, Sue, as you can see, the liability issue can be argued as ‘unfair’ unless Corporations, as farjas put it, are made liable for BEER, CARS, YOU NAME IT.  Rather, I would like to see some federal and state legislation banning certain ‘military’ weapons from being on the market all together.  We need to reign in the GUN INDUSTRY a little.  Such a ban would put ‘liability’ where it belongs.

    And let me be clear here (clear, Peter?):  I grew up with and shot all kinds of guns and ran into different gun laws in different states.  I AM OPPOSED TO BACKGROUND CHECKS.  I AM OPPOSED TO A HOMEOWNER HAVING TO CHILD-PROOF A ‘HOME DEFENSE GUN’ BY BREAKING IT DOWN, OR LOCKING IT UP, OR USING TRIGGER-GUARDS (unloading it is all it takes).  I AM OPPOSED TO THE GOVERNMENT USING THIS GUN CONTROL DEBATE TO SLEAZE THROUGH LEGISLATION THAT TARGETS THE PEOPLE RATHER THAN THE GUN INDUSTRY (Mandatory Registration [and fees for that], Fees for mandatory ‘gun safety’ courses, the invasion of one’s privacy by Background Checks [and the ‘fees’ for that–don’t think you won’t have to pay], and anything else that makes it easier for the government and police to put the gun owner on some kind of ‘special government shitlist’–hell, states are ‘legalizing’ recreational pot now).  IT IS THE GODDAMNED CORPORATE CAPITALIST WALL STREET GUN INDUSTRY THAT NEEDS REGULATING!  And Background Checks.  MILITARY assault weapons MAKE PROFITS!  They sell more AMMO.  They are like outsized cars, and foods, and sodas, and throwaway junk watches and gadgets.  SHOOT MORE ROUNDS–YA NEED TO BUY MORE BULLETS.  This is what the Gun Industry cares about–MONEY.

    We call for regulations on Genetically Engineered Foods NOT because the people are using them unwisely, but because we don’t want to have them take over the food marketplace and leave us with no choices.  Hell, the OIL INDUSTRY, the CAR INDUSTRY–even these fuckers have some regulations they must follow.  Why not the GUN INDUSTRY.  Guns kill.  People kill.  The Government kills.  And the GUN INDUSTRY rakes in the profits.  It’s all about Capitalism and fucking PRODUCTS!

  11. “Intention vs. potential” may be fine talking points but provide no workable solutions.

    What is your suggestion for a change to the status-quo?  Or do you think things are just about right now?

    I’m not talking about Vermont in isolation.  I don’t think we can realistically do that unless we’re prepared to secede and build a moat around the state.

  12. The EOs are fine.

    I saw nothing in the 23 executive orders I could not support.

    These are two statements that Kestrel made (and I agree(d) with) two weeks ago in response to a post you titled, “Your move, Governor”.

    Here are to the White House’s proposed steps illustrated in a document titled, “NOW IS THE TIME: The President’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence”.

    I don’t see these proposals as simple adherence to the status quo. Admittedly, there’s not a single proposal in the list that suggests we pass legislation to ensure weapons manufacturers have “skin in the game”, and there’s also nothing that suggests states secede or build moats around their borders.

  13. Hopefully, if those are adopted, they will make a significant difference.

    Nevertheless, I do feel that manufacturers and distributors of guns should have some liability for wrongful death, in so far as their messaging promotes paranoia and proliferation in order to sell more product.

  14. That is a statement of opinion, not a representation of some legal argument.

    I do not pretend to have mastery of the law but feel fairly certain that those who do could find a way to frame the argument for liability very effectively.

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