Gun makers should be liable for shootings

Guns don’t kill people. Gun manufacturers kill people.
At least that is what the city of New Orleans wants the Louisiana courts to believe. Taking its cue from state lawsuits against the tobacco industry, New Orleans has filed suit against 15 gun manufacturers. Officially, the city seeks damages for homicides and accidental deaths caused by handguns. In reality, it is attempting to reign in an industry which many believe to be out of control.
New Orleans alleges that handgun makers have failed to incorporate safety devices into their weapons. These devices would prevent anyone except the licensed owner and those authorized by the owner from firing them. If the city can demonstrate that this omission constitutes an “unreasonably dangerous design,” handgun manufacturers will be liable for damages caused by their products under Louisiana product liability statutes.
It is exceedingly unfortunate that things have come this far. The American fascination with guns has been bad news for decades. In 1996 there were more than 34,000 deaths involving firearms, yet little is done to change things. Politically vocal groups, such as the National Rifle Association, preach the virtues of the Second Amendment to sympathetic ears in Congress, and guns remain on the streets.
It took only one outburst of violence in Dunblane, Scotland for the United Kingdom to rally behind a ban on all handguns larger than .22-calibers. In the United States, where a Tennessee Republican state candidate stands accused of shooting his Democratic opponent and now runs unopposed on the ballot, the weakened Brady Act comes into effect by the end of the month. In its constitutionally-pleasant, gun-lobbiest appeasing form, the act allows instant computer background checks of individuals looking to buy a gun — just in time for the Christmas buying season.
As tired as everyone is of lawyers and lawsuits, New Orleans is on the right track. Remember the tobacco companies? They continued business as usual while congressmen from big tobacco states successfully stymied anti-smoking legislation. It was not until individual states stepped in and started making life miserable for the industry that changes were made. When gun companies start to settle with cities and states, when they start to feel the pinch in their pocketbooks, when their public images start to drop even more precipitously, then they will have to start regulating themselves. The Second Amendment may guarantee Americans the right to bear arms, but it does not guarantee that someone will be around to provide any guns they want.
The fact that this case is coming out of New Orleans is particularly promising. When a southern city in a state whose citizens have long been fans of firearms steps forward to challenge the gun industry, times must truly be changing. The mayors of Philadelphia, Miami and Chicago have all indicated they are interested in pursuing similar actions.
Individuals may be responsible for how they use their guns, but that does not mean the firearm industry should make it easy for them to do so. It is time for gun manufacturers to stand up and assume responsibility for providing the means, even if they do not commit the act.