Regulate Guns to Make Them Safer?
Why aren’t gunmakers making safer guns? Because guns are exempt from most of the consumer safety laws that improved the rest of American life. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which was established in 1972, is charged with looking over thousands of different kinds of products. If you search its database for “guns,” you’ll find lots of recalls of defective air pistols and lead-covered toy guns but nothing about real firearms. That’s because the CPSC is explicitly prohibited from regulating firearms. If you’re injured by a gun, you can’t even go to court. In 2005, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which immunizes gun makers against lawsuits resulting from “misuse” of the products. If they can’t be sued and can’t be regulated, gunmakers have no incentive to make smarter guns. It’s the Pinto story in reverse.
This is certainly a business ethics question. Whatever a person believes about having firearms, there is a separate question of whether or not the manufacturers should be held to the standards we hold other products to. Millions of guns are purchased each year and are an inherently dangerous product. So, why don’t we regulate guns as intensively as toys? What is it about this industry that makes it worthy to be immune to lawsuits while other products are not similarly placed?
I would suggest that gun control, is such a hot topic that rational conversation is difficult and rational action even more difficult. If this is the case, why not shift the discussion to a different plane, product safety?
What if our most recent mass killer had got up that morning,went to the weapon he intended to use (in this case, his mother’s) and found it wouldn’t work? That might have changed everything. And why wouldn’t it work? It would have had a feature on that recognized its owner and no other as being able to fire it, a smart gun. Smart gun technology would not eliminate mass shootings, but since a good number are committed with stolen or borrowed weapons, it would certainly curb them. The smart gun technology is just one of the things that could be done in a regulatory environment in which protecting consumers becomes the focus of the law instead of protecting gunmakers.