Imagine a city where the people have come to feel so victimized by gun violence that they give up trying to stop criminals. Instead, they choose the most easily identifiable symbol of their problem — gun manufacturers — and start yelling at them. To these frightened souls, it feels good to yell at gun manufacturers. It feels good to vent their fears. Mainstream media, both TV and print, tell sad and compelling stories about how innocents are gunned down across our nation, to convince we the people that the solution is more gun control legislation.
Other people empathize with their stories. They too have seen the destruction that these weapons can wreak, and they're fed up with the gun problem. The media manipulate them into blaming gun manufacturers for funneling handguns into poor, urban areas where they often end up in the hands of criminals. According to the liberal school of thought, negligent marketing by gun manufacturers is turning minority communities into "war zones."
These people feel as if they're empowering themselves. In reality, they are merely embracing a sort of all-encompassing narrative that places the onus of responsibility for gun violence solely on gun manufacturers — as opposed to the criminals who are actually pulling the triggers.
That is not to say gun violence is not a serious problem. Plainly it is. But a bigger problem lies in an implicit message that gun manufacturers are responsible for gun violence, a message that we are all victims. Not victims of hardened criminals who stalk our streets, but rather victims of gun manufacturers. Such a viewpoint places the emphasis on social retribution, rather than individual responsibility. Get it? The gun manufacturers are being blamed for the harsh acts of criminals.
This way of thinking may make us feel better, but it doesn't make our streets safer. After all, consider that many potential gun purchasers who are turned down for firearm permits simply get someone else to buy a gun for them. Consider that there are already enough illegal guns floating around our cities to supply criminals for decades. More to the point, consider that blaming the gun manufacturers does little to affect the culture of criminals. That is to say, suing gun makers does not create an effective deterrent for the criminal carrying an illegal firearm.
One thing that has been shown to have a real impact on the use of illegal firearms is the enforcement of tough, long-standing federal laws that guarantee time in federal prisons for criminals caught with illegal firearms. In the cities where this zero-tolerance approach has been tested, the prospect of serving time in a federal facility has formed a powerful deterrent that actually alters criminal behavior.
One such program, Project Exile, begun in Richmond, mandates an automatic five-year sentence in a federal prison for anyone caught carrying an illegal handgun. I remember the story of a criminal who was caught with a substantial quantity of drugs and, surprisingly, no guns were recovered during the search. It was the first time officers could remember a defendant with such large quantities of drugs not being armed in any way. Later, the prosecutor questioned the defendant extensively about where the guns were; the defendant finally stated, 'Haven't you heard, man? Five years!'"
Get it? Fighting crime and changing the culture of criminals carrying illegal firearms save lives. Suing gun manufacturers does not.
Until we commit to enforcing the tough federal laws already on the books, suing gun manufacturers amounts to little more than a pseudo solution, a news conference solely for the purpose of having a news conference, a few well-scripted words to make us feel like we're doing something about gun violence.
Meanwhile, criminals continue to stalk our streets.
• Armstrong Williams is live on Sirius/XM Power 128 6 to 7 p.m. and 4 to 5 a.m., Monday through Friday. Become a fan at facebook.com/arightside and follow him at twitter.com/arightside.