Lawful Commerce

So, are we all aware by now that Congress has passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms act? We are? Good. Oh, wait. I note some of you in the back have blank looks on your face. Even my lovely and esteemed co-blogger had no idea what I was talking about this morning before I left for work. Of course, I don’t have coffee until I get to work so I’m more than usually incoherent. Here’s the short version of what and why.

The Brady Center, in conjunction with certain excessively liberal jurisdictions, has been pushing lawsuits that are aimed at putting gun manufacturers out of business. Alternatively, the lawsuits are aimed at effectively making one jurisdiction’s laws a national standard by threat of lawsuit. DC comes to mind as having some particularly egregious actions in this regard. The theory is that gun manufacturers are liable for the misuse of their products by criminals. No other manufactured item that I am aware of is held to this standard. Even if the lawsuits aren’t won, fighting a lawsuit takes an enormous amount of money, which many smaller manufacturers don’t have. The avowed intent of the lawsuits is to horrendously abuse the legal system to incorporate by lawsuit restrictions which cannot get passed through the legislative process.

So Congress, with a little prodding, passed a law that says you don’t get to sue gun manufacturers unless they have a defective product or are negligent. If the manufacturer sells a product with no design or manufacturing flaws, is not negligent in the course of selling the weapon, and the weapon is later used to commit a crime, you don’t get to sue the manufacturer. Dave Kopel has a post explaining why he thinks the law is constitutional. I tend to agree with his points, although some of them look a little weak to me.

I am deriving a great amount of twisted amusement reading the comments. I am once again amazed by the number of people who, quite simply, either didn’t read or didn’t understand the bill and proceed to bitch about how it’s wrong. There is nothing in the bill that shields the manufacturer from being sued on the grounds of actual negligence. If there is, somebody needs to point it out to me because I’m missing it. I must have got confused by all the sections that say negligence is exempted from the provisions of the bill. So maybe all the asshats who didn’t RTFA should go back and work on reading comprehension before spouting off about how horrible the bill is.

I am also amazed by the people that are completely unable to draw any sort of rational distinction between a gun and any other tool. The idea that guns are somehow intrinsically more dangerous than all other tools is laughable. I am going off memory here, but the three tools responsible for the largest amount of serious injury in the home are table saws, chain saws, and circular saws. Yet somehow, guns are "ultra-hazardous" despite the fact that cars kill way more people annually. Any attempt to classify guns as more dangerous than other items runs into a brick wall of statistics sooner rather than later. If guns are so dangerous, why are more deaths caused by other things? You have to drill down pretty deep to find any sub-group where the rate of death by gunshot is higher than a multitude of other causes. If guns were indeed so damned hazardous, wouldn’t you expect the reverse to be true? The claim that guns are ultra hazardous is belied by actual mortality statistics. What can you fall back on? The nebulous idea that guns are designed to be dangerous? Here’s a hint for you: all tools are dangerous in theory. In actual practice, they turn out to not be so dangerous after all.

Another interesting claim made by one of the posters is the sale of guns imposes costs and these costs should be placed on the manufacturer. Somebody doesn’t understand how to differentiate between sale and use. Somebody also doesn’t grasp how externalities work. The mere existence of a gun imposes no external cost on anyone, any more than the existence of a screwdriver does. The lawful and responsible use of guns imposes no costs on society in general, with noise pollution being a possible exception. The illegal and irresponsible use of guns does impose external costs. In that case, why hold the manufacturer liable for the costs? I fail to see how that’s justifiable. The person who commits the proximate act which imposes the cost should be held liable. The only way involving the manufacturer is remotely legitimate is if the item itself is intrinsically flawed in some way. Some people actually think guns are intrinsically flawed, tying closely to the "ultra-hazardous" idea above. These tend to be the same people who think guns are evil and nasty and horrible. Since I think inanimate objects are not possessed with moral qualities, I can’t buy that argument. Guns are not in any conceivable fashion actors. Any gun requires the conscious intervention of a person or persons before it does anything. Said people are responsible for everything the gun does or fails to do, not the manufacturer located 2,000 miles away.

Equally as bizarre is the assertion made about how the bill subverts personal responsibility. Since, after all, once I make something, I’m responsible for what every asshat from now until eternity does with it. Does anyone see the flaw in this argument if generally applied? Way to destroy all manufacturing of anything remotely dangerous or subject to misuse. Oh, wait, we already did this once. The light aircraft industry no longer exists in America because of that exact same argument.

Ultimately, a lot of these arguments boil down to the conviction, unassailable by logic or evidence, that guns are in a special category requiring heightened liability and excessive caution. Unfortunately for people with this viewpoint, the special category guns fall into is a constitutionally protected one.


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