There is always lots of talk in corporate boardrooms about how the government overregulates and hurts businesses in this country. This is largely a myth created by Corporate America. Considering the source, I fully expect to hear that sort of thing. But I know based on our firm’s experience in product liability litigation that the government not only doesn’t overregulate, it actually does an inadequate job of regulation. There may well be a number of small businesses that believe that too much regulation hurts them. However, the regulation of such industries as the automobile industry, the chemical industry, the oil industry and the drug industry is grossly inadequate and the health and safety of the consuming public is put at risk as a result. That makes the role of the judicial system extremely important.
However, there is at least one industry that is not only unregulated, but also enjoys a level of immunity that no other industry has. International Business Times reports, “Unlike virtually any other consumer product sold in the United States – from toasters to medical devices – the federal government has no authority to force the recall of potentially defective and dangerous firearms.” There is no agency tasked with ensuring the product functions safely.
While there is a lot of emphasis on the Second Amendment “Right to Bear Arms,” the freedoms granted by an unregulated gun industry are a double-edged sword for gun owners. Whether gun manufacturers choose to recall a firearm is entirely at their discretion. If they do, there is no mandatory protocol to follow to alert owners, and no official repository of recall notices. If a gun is defectively designed and unintentionally injures or kills someone, gun owners are left with little recourse to hold companies accountable outside the civil court system.
Experts can’t pinpoint the exact number of deaths and injuries from defective firearms, because there is no national data that tracks it. But there were 215,422 non-fatal injuries from unintentional gunshots between 2001 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During that same period, 8,383 people died from unintentional shootings.
Just because a gun is inherently lethal doesn’t mean it can’t be designed in such a way that the odds are less that a person will be injured or killed unintentionally. For example, a gun shouldn’t have a design flaw that allows the weapon to fire if dropped.
Technology also exists to create additional safety features, such as an indicator to allow a person to see if the gun is loaded with a round in the chamber; and for a magazine disconnect device that would prevent the gun from firing when the magazine is removed, even if there is a bullet in the chamber. Experts estimate these features would cost as little as $1 for a manufacturer to add, and greatly enhance the weapons’ safety. Yet, gun manufacturers still refuse to add them.
Gun manufacturers are not adding safety features because the public is not demanding them, through lobbying or litigation. Safety features in other industries, such as airbags in automobiles, were also initially balked at by manufacturers who decried the cost. But with public outcry – and civil litigation – airbags are now standard features on automobiles.
But there is some promise. Under the terms of a pending class action settlement, Taurus International Manufacturing agreed to effectively recall nearly 1 million Taurus pistols. The lawsuit was filed by Iowa Police Officer Chris Carter, a deputy sheriff with the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, who alleges his Taurus PT 140 fired when it fell to the ground during a drug sting. No one was injured, but the gun shot out a car window, according to the complaint, which was filed in 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The Taurus recall would include the PT 140 involved in Carter’s case and others, as well as the PT 111, which is one that the company’s former CEO admitted during his testimony at a jury trial six years ago could fire when dropped. Since 2005, at least 13 people have been injured in similar incidents involving various models of Taurus handguns, and an 11-year-old boy was killed.
Taurus’ concession in the case is a legal landmark for a gun company operating in the U.S., but the company continues to deny allegations that its guns have defects. In a statement provided to the International Business Times, Tim Brandt, director of marketing for Taurus Holdings Inc., said, “We are unable to comment at this point in the Carter settlement process, which has received preliminary court approval, or on other pending litigation at this time.”
The pending Taurus settlement, which is scheduled for a final review in January, is only the second proposed class action settlement with a U.S. gun manufacturer in which the company effectively agreed to a recall. The other agreement is pending with Remington Arms, and would affect more than 7 million guns.
If guns are finally going to be subject to federal safety regulations, the next question is how that will be done, and by whom. Several times in the past, and most recently this year, legislators and advocates have suggested the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) would be the logical choice. The CPSC already monitors emergency room data to identify injury patterns, investigates consumer complaints and enforces companies’ reporting requirements related to dangerous defects. It can sue businesses that violate safety regulations, and force them to recall defective products. Companies face fines and other penalties for violating safety standards.
However, others, such as the Violence Policy Center, argue adding guns and ammunition to the CPSC’s regulatory duties would overburden the already heavily overworked agency. Representatives from the Center say the duties would be better handled by the U.S. Justice Department.
Source: International Business Times
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