Not able to achieve what he (and other gun-control advocates) have sought legislatively, President Clinton is pursuing the route he loves best to get his way. The administration has announced it would join lawsuits against firearms manufacturers already filed by dozens of cities and self-styled “public interest” groups, on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The suit, which adds 3,191 public housing authorities to the list of plaintiffs, seeks to recoup the more than $1 billion allegedly spent each year to protect residents of public housing from gun-related violence.
There is a lot of sophistry obscuring the issue of gun-related violence. And note, first of all, that precise language requires use of the term, “gun-related.” For guns themselves are merely instruments; tools, if you will very much like hammers or automobiles. They all require human agency to do anything. Hence gun-related violence. In the hands of a police officer, or homeowner defending his family, a handgun, rifle or shotgun can be (and often is) a lifesaver. In the hands of a violent thug, the same weapon can be the instrument of death and injury. But the weapon itself is neutral.
The second problem with the suit against the firearms industry is that unlike the suits against the tobacco industry, which hinged upon claims that information about the addictiveness/negative health effects of smoking was suppressed, the firearms industry has never been accused of doing anything more than selling a perfectly legal product one with perfectly legitimate uses in conformity with all existing federal and state laws. Mr. Clinton decries the “irresponsible marketing practices” of the firearms industry, but the fact is there has never been a Smith & Wesson version of the Marlboro Man. Most gun marketing and advertising, in point of fact, is limited to specialty publications that are read almost exclusively by sportsmen and hunters.
Handguns, rifles and shotgun have almost always been marketed as implements for sport and self-defense. There have been a few cases of small, off-brand gun makers who peddle cheaply built, violent-looking (but functionally similar to conventional) pistols and long guns. But the majors companies like Colt Industries, Sturm, Ruger & Co., Smith & Wesson, etc. have never marketed their weapons in any way that could be deemed irresponsible by a fair-minded person.
But the president is hardly that. If he were, he would have to acknowledge that existing gun laws did nothing and could have done nothing to prevent, for example, the slaughter at Colombine High in Colorado. The two rampaging youths employed old shotguns neither of which would be affected by any proposed gun control laws. Mr. Clinton simply wants to take guns out of the hands of all Americans, law-abiding or not.
Colt Industries has already announced it will cease selling firearms to the general public and concentrate on sales to the military and police out of fear of being sued. Whether a lawsuit has merit or not, the cost of defending against these actions can be prohibitive. Several smaller firearms manufacturers have already filed for bankruptcy. Given the demagoguery of the anti-gun groups, and of the president himself, it’s no wonder they’re folding before the “game” actually begins.
If this dirty business is successful, we will all come to regret it one day gun-control advocates and Second Amendment supporters alike. For if sanction is given to an attack against a reputable business for selling a legal product on the basis of that product’s being misused by a third party, then everyone from automakers to fast-food purveyors is in legal jeopardy. Our economy will be crippled by spurious litigation and blame-game finger-pointing. All the while, the individual responsibility and free agency so vital to the continuation of an open, democratic society will have succumbed to a new state of affairs one where we must all surrender our judgment and right to govern our own lives to Bill Clinton and his coterie of coercive utopians.