Friday, October 21, 2005

The Constitution Wins One 

One of the few issues where I veer from the liberal conventional wisdom is the Second Amendment, especially in this time of lunatics in office. And Congress actually did something right and sane, in passing shield laws to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits over deaths caused by their products.

And I think that's a good thing. The logic behind it is pretty damn simple, actually, and something that raving anti-gun folk just don't get. It ain't the gun-makers' fault when someone uses their product to kill. After all, car makers shouldn't be held liable for accidents that are not caused by manufacturing defects. Alcohol makers shouldn't be held liable for illness, injury or death caused by use of their product. And tobacco makers should never have been held liable for same -- but that's one case where emotion ran away with the law and rationality.

The fact that it took Congress to stop these sorts of silly suits speaks volumes about one of the other big problems we have in American society. People refuse to take responsibility for their actions -- viz. attempts by fat people to sue McDonalds. Y'know what? You stuck the food in your gaping maw, repeatedly. Maybe when you couldn't see your own genitalia anymore, you should have considered going on a fucking diet? And corollary to the "avoid responsibility" meme is "find someone with lots of money to blame." Do the same survivors of gun victims who tried to sue, say, Smith & Wesson, also file a $30 million wrongful death suit against Gangbager Joe, the guy who fired the gun? Of course not -- because they know they'll never see a dime from him or his family. But that part of it shouldn't matter. If it's about retribution against the guilty, then sue the shooter. Even if you won't ever see any money from it, you'll make sure that he or she is working for you for life under the watchful eye of the court system.

Unfortunately, and I do not blame trial lawyers for this, our legal system has come to be seen as the Lottery with Better Odds. Chances are, if you've been breathing on the planet for at least two decades, someone somewhere has sued someone on your behalf. Case in point: I recently received (not the first time) papers informing me that I was a party in a class-action suit, and was entitled to compensation. Never mind that I'd never really suffered any wrong at the hands of the many named defendants. Some court somewhere had decided that I deserved some money for it because someone somewhere had complained. Did I file the forms? Well, in this case, you bet your ass I did, because it looked like I had a really good chance of actually seeing a bit of scratch. And the defendants are generally evil anyway. I acknowledge my mild hypocrisy here, mitigated by my having done nothing to instigate the action.

Note: I do not think class-action suits are bad things. Like the oft-misrepresented McDonald's coffee case, they're often intended to send a message to a company that has been abusive for far too long. They may not have hurt anyone individually that much, but collectively they have, and these settlements are intended as a heads-up that they'd better change their ways. As for the McDonald's case, they had been warned many many times before that they were serving their coffee way too hot, and had settled many a burn case out of court, figuring it was cheaper. The old woman in question, who got the gigantic award, was used as an example. After the jury saw McDonald's habit of ignoring the problem, they opened up a can of judicial whip-ass, which was why the award was so much bigger than seemed logical to an uninformed public. However, if I recall correctly, the plaintiff only got about $800K, not the millions and millions trumpeted in the press...

But I do digress. Getting back to my original point, gun makers make guns, and sell them to be used for legal purposes. If someone is shot, it isn't the gun maker's fault. If a gun blows up in someone's face, then it may be the gun maker's fault -- but only if the gun was defective.

And if this country continues down the path it's on, we're all going to need our guns to defend ourselves when everything goes down the toilet and the State of the Union makes post-Katrina New Orleans look like a weekend on the French Riviera by comparison.

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