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Cities Target Gun Makers in Bogus Lawsuits
Cities Target Gun Makersin Bogus Lawsuits

More people are killed by cars; more children drown or die in fires.

As Printed in the LA Times 12/1/98

By John R. Lott Jr., a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. He is author of "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws" (University of Chicago Press, 1998).

Every product has illegitimate uses and undesirable consequences. In 1996 in the U.S., car accidents killed 43,000 people and injured another 3.4 million; 950 children under the age of 15 drowned in pools and while boating; 500 children died in bicycle accidents, and more than 1,000 children died from residential fires. No one is yet proposing that state or city governments should recoup medical costs or police salaries by suing automobile or bicycle companies, pool builders or makers of home heaters. Such suits make as little sense as pool builders suing the government to recoup the health benefits from exercise.

But suing manufacturers for any costs cities incur from gun injuries and deaths is exactly the theory behind the lawsuits by Chicago and New Orleans against gun makers. Gun control groups, which are helping organize the litigation, claim that as many as 60 cities will eventually sue. With so many simultaneous suits, the goal is not to win these weak cases in court but to bankrupt legitimate small companies through massive legal costs.

Obviously, bad things happen with guns. But the suits ignore that guns also prevent bad things by making it easier for victims to defend themselves. With fewer than 1% of all guns ever used in crimes or causing death or injury, many other products have much higher probabilities of causing harm. Unlike the tobacco suits, gun makers have powerful arguments about the benefits of gun ownership.

More than 450,000 crimes, including 10,744 murders, are committed with guns each year. But Americans also use guns defensively about 2.5 million times a year, and 98% of the time merely brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack.

Police are important in reducing crime rates, but they virtually always arrive after a crime has been committed. When criminals confront people, resistance with a gun is by far the safest course of action. Guns help offset the strength differential between male criminals and female victims. The chances of serious injury from an attack are 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than for those resisting with guns.

My own research has found that increased gun ownership rates are associated with lower crime rates. Poor people in the highest crime areas benefit the most from owning guns. Lawsuits against gun makers will raise the price of firearms, which will most severely reduce gun ownership among the law-abiding, much-victimized poor.

A 1996 survey by the National Assn. of Chiefs of Police found that 93% of 15,000 chiefs and sheriffs questioned thought that law-abiding citizens should be able to buy guns for self-defense. If mayors really believe that guns produce no benefits, there is one simple way they can demonstrate this: Disarm their bodyguards. It is hypocritical for mayors to demand that poor people live in high crime areas without being able to own guns, while the mayors would never enter these areas without armed guards.

Chicago claims that the gun makers made their weapons attractive to gang members through low price, easy concealability, corrosion resistance, accurate firing and high firepower. Lightweight, concealable guns may help criminals, but they also have helped protect law-abiding citizens and lower crime rates in the 43 states that allow concealed handguns. Women benefit most and also find it easier to use smaller, lightweight guns.

The New Orleans suit seeks to hold gun makers liable because accidental deaths are "foreseeable" and not enough was done to make guns safe. It is particularly concerned with accidental deaths involving children and cites three cases in New Orleans since 1992. Nationally, 30 children under 5 and 200 under 15 died from accidental gun deaths in 1996. Yet with 80 million people owning 200 million to 240 million guns, accidental deaths from guns are far less "foreseeable" than from many other products. Gun owners must be very responsible, or such gun accidents would be much more frequent.

Allowing the court system to ignore a product's benefits to society is bad enough. Yet even worse is the cynical attempt to file bogus lawsuits and use taxpayers' dollars to impose massive legal costs that render it infeasible for defendants to defend themselves. - - -

John R. Lott Jr., a Law and Economics Fellow at the University of Chicago School of Law, Is the Author of "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws" (University of Chicago Press, 1998)

To Purchase: More Guns, Less Crime By: John Lott, Jr.

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Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.... We've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of government himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price. Ronald Reagan

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