Atty. Ralph D. Sherman
130 West Main Street New Britain, Connecticut 06052
tel. (860) 229-0213 fax (860) 229-0235 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Why lawsuits won't improve gun safety
published in The Hartford CourantFebruary 19, 1999
by Ralph D. Sherman
The City of Bridgeport has sued some of the most prominent gun manufacturers, claiming their products are inherently unsafe and have caused a great economic loss to the city. Because of my work pertaining to firearms, some of my clients who dont own guns have been asking me about the Bridgeport lawsuit. Here are some of their questions, with my answers.
Q: Arent guns terribly dangerous because they can be operated by unauthorized users?
A: Guns are no more dangerous than power saws or kitchen knives that can be used by anyone. Guns need to be stored safely if there are children at home, and children need to be taught about the dangers - the same as with power saws or kitchen knives.
Q: But isnt there a way to make guns safer?
A: Guns that are manufactured today come with dozens of safety improvements that were unheard of only 20 years ago. But the main purpose of a typical handgun - in the hands of a homeowner, a shopkeeper, or a police officer - is self-defense. That means the gun is supposed to put a bullet where it is aimed, if the trigger is pulled.
Therefore its common sense that one should not point a gun at another person, except in self-defense. This simple rule is fundamental to the gun-safety courses that are taught every week by certified instructors all over Connecticut. Such courses are the main reason that the number of gun accidents is at an all-time low in the United States, even though gun ownership is at an all-time high.
Q: What about a computerized "smart" gun that only fires for someone who wears an electronic ring or bracelet containing a special radio transmitter?
A: First, the "smart" gun doesnt exist in a form that any manufacturer considers reliable enough to market. Its extremely difficult to make a miniature computer that will continue to function despite being located inside a gun, an inch or two away from the explosion that occurs when a round is fired.
Secondly, the "smart" gun isnt really a solution. The most advanced experimental version seems to be Colts. If the battery inside the Colts gun dies, then the gun will fire without the special ring. The idea is that if the user needs to defend himself with the gun, a dead battery wont cost him his life. Unfortunately that also means that a criminal who steals a "smart" gun need only remove the battery to make the gun work.
Another rule taught in the gun-safety courses is that any safety mechanism can fail. Would a responsible person leave a computerized gun under a sofa cushion, where a child could find it? Absolutely not. So the computer gimmick doesnt really provide a practical advantage. Safe storage is the answer; its been required by Connecticut law for almost a decade.
Q: What about a three-digit combination lock in the grip of a gun?
A: It certainly wont stop a criminal who buys a stolen gun and has time to dismantle it. And since 1990, every gun dealer in this state has been required to sell every gun with a trigger lock, which is probably more secure, although trigger locks have their dangers, too.
Q: What about a "load indicator" to show when theres a round of ammunition in gun, ready to fire?
A: Imagine a gun with a "load indicator." Lets say the indicator says the gun is unloaded. Would a responsible person point it at a friend and pull the trigger? Of course not. Anyone who has taken a safety course and is handed a gun for examination always opens it and checks for himself that it is empty - and he still doesnt point it at his friend. So nothing would be gained by the addition of a "load indicator." It would just be another safety mechanism that can fail.
Q: Whats wrong with suing the gun manufacturers?
A: Its like suing McDonalds because some children become obese from eating too many hamburgers and French fries. Obviously the public wants McDonalds food available in its present form, without legal restrictions. There will always be some people, however, who will try to abuse the court system as a way to dictate to others and/or to make a profit.
If a criminal misuses a firearm as a tool for crime, the fault lies with the criminal. If a parent leaves a firearm accessible to children, the parent must take the blame for the consequences. Those who ask the court to penalize the firearms industry are not invoking any moral principle of personal responsibility. Instead, the principles guiding the gun lawsuits are the contingent fee, the deep-pocket theory, and use of the court system for political gain. These lawsuits dont make me proud of my profession.