04/18/05 — Misplaced blame: Bill is aimed at stopping baseless, dangerous suits

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Misplaced blame: Bill is aimed at stopping baseless, dangerous suits

A man roars down the highway on a motorcycle, slams into a car and kills someone.

Who is at fault? Is it the rider? Or is it the company that manufactured the motorcycle?

The cyclist, of course. It would be reprehensible to hold a company liable for harm that is done when its product is misused.

Not only would it be unfair to people who intended no harm and did none, it would also put every manufacturer in the country at risk. Economic activity would decline. Liability insurance rates would soar. So would prices. And court judgments could bankrupt many businesses.

Yet, that is the model that opponents of gun ownership are trying to establish.

Several years ago, local governments, spurred on by advocates of gun control, began suing the manufacturers of firearms when guns were used in crimes.

This was a way of bypassing state legislatures and Congress, which wisely have refused to pass laws creating this third-party responsibility. The gun opponents hoped to get the courts to make laws that elected lawmakers wouldn’t.

So far, the scheme has failed. The plaintiffs have not won a single case.

What they have done is caused the defendants to spend $200 million defending lawsuits in which they were falsely accused. The plaintiffs have spent a few hundred million in legal fees themselves — and that was mostly taxpayers’ money.

Now a bill aimed at stopping such mischief has been introduced in the Senate. It is called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, and it would specify that a gun manufacturer cannot be held responsible when a criminal misuses its product.

Gun-control advocates plan to try to weigh the bill down with amendments to make it less effective and less attractive. These efforts should be beaten back, and the act should be passed to stop the groundless and expensive lawsuits.

If the principle of third-party responsibility ever were realized, courts soon would apply it throughout America’s manufacturing industry. The ultimate aim of the anti-Second Amendment activists is to put gun manufacturers out of business. Once the principle was accepted, it could destroy all kinds of manufacturers.

Published in Editorials on April 18, 2005 10:22 AM