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GREG HARTON: They're not coming for your guns

by Greg Harton | April 11, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Let's say Jack Daniel's makes some whiskey, as I've heard they've done from time to time, and I drink some of it exactly as it's designed to be consumed. It's a legal product on which state and federal taxes are collected.

Inebriated, I go out and cause a wreck.

In that example, is the whiskey maker responsible for the damage caused by the wreck?

As we've seen at least since automobiles became a popular and affordable choice for a lot of people, too many drivers have gotten behind the steering wheel after consuming alcohol. They've literally wrecked lives and killed people. Or is it the alcohol that did it?

That there are liquor stores on many street corners suggests, perhaps, that anyone blaming booze would be in the tiniest of minorities.

President Joe Biden last week dove in on a new collection of executive actions and proposals on gun control that will fuel the claims among those who didn't vote for him that Biden is out to get Americans' guns. That's not what Biden has said. It's not what any president -- other than the fictional one played by Michael Douglas on the big screen -- has said.

But the gun industry has never gone broke stirring up fears that a Democratic president translates into the end of the Second Amendment.

I know too many gun-owning Democrats in Arkansas to accept the equation.

Biden last week invoked the Almighty as he described what would be his priority -- all other things being equal -- as he attempts to launch his administration's effort to get gun violence under control. If "the Lord came down and said 'Joe, you get one of these,'" Biden said he'd remove the gun manufacturers' protections against being sued when someone commits violence using one of the industry's products.

Of course, all things aren't equal, so I'm not sure even Biden thinks he can get that change through Congress. So he announced other moves on his own that he hopes can have an impact. Those include regulation changes designed to reduce the spread of "ghost guns," which are homemade firearms often lacking traceable serious numbers. He wants to increase background checks for more purchases. He's also promoting state measures such as red flag laws that allow family members or law enforcement agencies to petition state courts to temporarily block an individual from obtaining firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others.

Last week, former NFL player Phillip Adams, using a gun, killed a South Carolina physician, the doctor's wife and two grandchildren, ages 5 and 9, after invading their home. He shot two air conditioning technicians who were working outside the home, killing one of them. Police later found Adams at his nearby parents' house, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

As horrid as that tragedy is, is there a scenario through which the gun's manufacturer is responsible?

Removing the liability protections doesn't make sense in terms of assigned liability. It's a legal product sold as a mechanism to launch a projectile with accuracy. That projectile can be shot at a target at a firing range and operate in exactly the same way it does if someone points it at another human being. Why does it make sense to make one the responsibility of the manufacturer?

It really only does if the goal is to shut down the manufacturer through litigation.

We are, I believe, a society far too oriented toward guns. Working to change attitudes isn't necessarily a bad thing. But any message that sounds like "we've got to get the guns" isn't going to be the solution, because for every person who commits acts of violence, there are many more who own guns and handle them with great care and responsibility.


Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

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