Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Time to pass the Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act.

Even though we beat our chests endlessly about how individuals need to take responsibility for their actions when they get hurt through misuse of a product, nothing says "safety" like a good old-fashioned lawsuit.  Think suing McDonalds because a careless woman spilled some coffee on her lap.  Think slipping on ice outside a multinational corporation and seeing dollars signs instead of stars.  Think of all the product recalls because people were stupid and used things exactly the opposite way they were intended.   Heck, even plastic bags for veggies at the grocery store have to remind you not to stick the bag over your head because you might suffocate.

Yes, the extent to which products have to bend over backwards to accommodate our stupidity is awe-inspiring.  But good things do come out of it.  Accidents, deaths and property damage from consumer products costs the economy up to $900 billion per year, but in the last 30 years, consumer protection and oversight has consistently lowered the loss of life, limb, and dollar

The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates over 15,000 products in all, but federal law prohibits them from controlling the safety of firearms.  In fact, there is next to no regulation of firearm manufacture, and only the gun manufacturers themselves can issue recalls.  What's more, gun makers, dealers and trade groups are immune from negligence and product liability lawsuits.

There have been a few incarnations of the Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act, which was first proposed in 1999 to give the Secretary of the Treasury authority to apply and enforce safety standards.  In 2003, the act was again proposed, this time granting authority to the more-powerful Department of Justice.  Here is one FAQ of that 2003 act.

There have been a number of proposals made in the last month (following Newtown) on gun safety and regulation.  Many have argued for a ban on many kinds of guns.  Others have called for mandatory insurance to be bought with the weapon, to cover the costs of accidents and injuries that may arise from the weapon.  In the end, the most powerful method to curb gun violence may be through the power of liability lawsuits and safety oversight.  

We propose that the Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act is the right way to proceed.  Firearms must enjoy the same oversight and safety regulations as all other products (not just consumer, but food, drugs, and transportation, just to name a few), and there must not be a protective wall of immunity against those who make, distribute, and promote firearms.  Financial liability to the public is our best guarantee of safety.  In the end, as a Capitalist country, that is the American way.  


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