- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

The government of the District of Columbia has joined the ranks of those looking to use the court system to extort money from the politically unpopular "gun industry" (the favored term of disparagement used by anti-gun politicians and media nabobs). The city will seek millions in damages, along with 29 other jurisdictions around the country, for the police work, medical costs (including reimbursements to the Medicaid program) and other problems purportedly caused or contributed to by firearms manufacturers.

Mayor Anthony Williams made the announcement on Thursday, stating, "We're supposed to have the toughest gun prohibitions in the nation, and yet our streets are flooded with guns." Somehow, in ways that defy logical thought, Mr. Williams establishes causality (and thus negligence/culpability) between the manufacturers of a legitimate product and the criminal misuse of those products by third parties over which the manufacturer cannot possibly have exerted any control or supervision, one way or the other.

"Every day, new guns come into our city from sources in Maryland and from sources in Virginia. It's illegal. It's dangerous. It's entirely preventable, and yet it's happening," Mr. Williams continued. Well, yes, it is indeed "happening." But what has that fact got to do with the manufacturers of firearms? It is legal to sell handguns in Virginia and Maryland has been for more than 100 years, in fact. Companies such as Sturm, Ruger & Co., Colt Industries, Smith & Wesson, etc. violated no law by providing handguns and long guns to gun shops in these states. Neither did the individuals who purchased them. No one has suggested that the firearms industry has sold weapons in the District, or smuggled them in to be sold by street toughs. Rather, criminals bring them in from wherever it is that criminals obtain weapons.

Only by a bizarre, but unfortunately more and more common, turn of mind could one gin up the notion that the manufacturers are responsible for actions taken by street criminals. It would be equivalent to blaming General Motors for a high-speed chase involving a Chevrolet Corvette.

But reason to say nothing of basic fairness apparently counts for little when it comes to the likes of guns or, earlier, tobacco. What does matter is the prospect of cashing in by crucifying a politically unpopular bogeyman instead of taking meaningful steps to do something about the real problem: criminals who misuse firearms. It's much more expedient politically to demagogue guns than it is to take a tough stance against the thugs who effectively control certain neighborhoods in the city. That's the calculus behind the mayor's announcement.

If so, then nothing will be out of bounds in the future. If the government wants your money it will manufacture an excuse to take your money. The individual's rights will become expendable and the whole concept of a society tied together by the rule of law will disappear. You may not take the threat seriously at the moment, shrugging it off as the problem of some large industry that you couldn't care less about one way or the other. But if, in principle, this pernicious precedent takes firmer root in law, the next target may be one you hold more dear.

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