Gun control is one of those subjects that is, at best, incendiary and at worst causes explosive arguments. Debate is heated and emotionally driven regarding the real meaning of the second constitutional amendment and how it applies in modern American life.
But it might be that we’re missing a larger question as we grapple to decide whether guns should be available at all to private citizens. Perhaps a larger and more readily answered question should be, who actually carries the criminal responsibility when someone uses a firearm to harm others?
Recently, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stated that, if elected, he would work to repeal the immunity granted by congress to firearms manufacturers. Passed into law in 2005, The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their products.
Most of the disagreement comes from debate surrounding the “intended use” of a product relative to manufacturer or reseller liability. From some points of view, the only intended use of a firearm (gun) is to kill people. However, those law-abiding citizens who maintain guns with absolutely no ill intentions towards others heatedly contest this line of thought.
Ranchers and farmers must have firearms in order to protect property and livestock from wildlife. Even in southwestern Ohio, for example, the wild coyote has become an ever-increasing problem to cattle farms and other livestock producers. While fences, traps and dogs have been used to curb the problem, often a rifle seems to offer the only permanent solution.
But, if one subscribes to the concept that guns are only intended for killing of people, then, logically, culpability rests solely with those who build and sell weapons. Since, by this definition, the products are meant for killing there is no “misuse” of the firearm if it is used to murder.
Conversely, if an axe were used to kill someone, the manufacturer wouldn’t be held criminally liable because the product was not intended for that purpose. Once again, however, why is no one looking at the guy on the trigger (or handle, if the axe is still in play here)?
Once upon a time in America, responsibility for ones actions was the basis for many a legal precedent. Today, the United States has adopted a social climate rich with the idea the personal responsibility is politically incorrect.
At what point did Americans stop blaming the person who pulled the trigger and begin assigning responsibility, not to the perpetrator, but to the manufacturer or seller of the weapon used to commit the crime?
And the next question is, where does self-defense come into play? Who is responsible if someone threatens a law-abiding citizen with an illegally obtained gun and the victim protects herself with a legally purchased and licensed concealed pistol? Good question. It would clearly depend on the facts of the situation.
Making guns entirely illegal is not the answer either. Arguing that swords and battle-axes are illegal so no one uses them to commit crimes because of that fact is, well, stupid; apples to oranges. This kind of weapon simply doesn’t do enough damage for those with mayhem in mind.
Facing facts, the bad guys will always have guns because, quite simply, they don’t obey the law (that’s what makes them bad guys). So if the only people who can own and use a gun – for any purpose at all – are criminals, what are people supposed to do to protect their families and property?
When an act of self-defense has taken place, it should be up to the investigating police officials and, perhaps, eventually a jury to evaluate the culpability and intent where any weapon is concerned. Once again, the discussion has to circle back around to personal responsibility.
Better background check data, waiting periods for purchase and greater restrictions on gun show sales are good options for the short term. They maintain second amendment rights while providing increased safety and also address the question of personal responsibility. Applying some common sense while protecting the rights and security of Americans might just save some lives.