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Hillary’s Illogical Liability

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Article first appeared at Ammoland.

USA –  -(Ammoland.com)-  During the March 6, 2016 Democratic Party debate, Hillary Clinton stated unequivocally that she believes that manufacturers and sellers of legal goods should be held liable for the illegal misuse of their product.

Saying “…giving immunity to gun makers and sellers was a terrible mistake…We should very seriously work to repeal that…”, she indicated a not-all-that-secret line of attack on your firearms freedom: drying up the supply.

Clinton’s stance on the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) is as ill-founded as it is dangerous.

Let’s look at Hillary Clinton’s principal assumptions: She believes that manufacturers can be held liable for their product functioning as it was designed to do. Subsequent to that, she believes every firearms manufacturer new and old, big and small, should be fleeced and flayed financially every time a lawful (or even unlawful) user of a firearm breaks the law with a firearm.

Over and over again, until they are driven out of business.

This, of course, hinges on another of her principal assumptions: guns are inherently evil and corrupting. The PLCAA, however, rejects this inane idea, as legal scholar Victor E. Schwartz writes in a Feb. 26 Wall Street Journal editorial:

“The notion that Congress gave gun manufacturers inappropriate immunity from lawsuits is a fiction. Instead the 2005 law stands for the unremarkable premise that when a business makes or sells a lawful product, but the product is used in an unlawful way, it is not the fault of the maker or seller. It is the fault of the criminal.”

This line of attack, currently mounted by Clinton, is based on the campaign against tobacco. When used as intended and manufactured, tobacco products result in real injury to the user and bystanders. As a result of the proper and intended use of the product people get sick and die when they smoke or chew tobacco.

A person using a properly functioning firearm does not suffer harm or injury from properly operating the firearm legally or illegally. That is to say that when rules of firearm safety are observed, a person can participate in a four-day rifle class and shoot 1,000 rounds and no harm will come to them or to the other participants in the class. The same is true for someone who, while observing safety rules, shoots an attacker. To stop the attacker with no harm coming to the operator of the firearm is the intended purpose of the firearm.

Even a criminal shooting an innocent victim or another criminal in defense or attack is operating the firearm as intended.

The difference here is the lawfulness of the application of the firearm’s intended use. Many are wont to trot out the truism that you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Of course you can. It’s what one intends with the action and the consequences of that action that are key.

As Breitbart’s AWR Hawkins points out, there are legitimate instances where a firearms manufacturer should be held liable. One such case is when the product performs NOT as intended, or malfunctions or fails, resulting in injury or death to people who were otherwise engaged in proper use of the product. Examples of this from the firearms industry are: a class action suit against Remington over a faulty trigger mechanism, a class action suit against Forjas Taurus SA over firearms which were reportedly not drop-safe , and the recent class action suit alleging that some of the Kalashnikov-pattern rifles produced by Century Arms International had incorrect safety selectors installed, leading to potential unintended discharges during disassembly of the rifle.

The substance of those cases is analogous to a car manufacturer being liable for spontaneous explosions of their vehicles that kill drivers, occupants or bystanders while the vehicle is being operated safely and according to its intended use.

What Hillary Clinton supports is analogous to punitively driving a car manufacturer out of business by holding it liable when an individual (for whatever reason) floors the gas pedal and intentionally mows down a group of school kids while driving a vehicle that is operating to specifications and in accordance with design.

No failures of steering or braking systems and no stuck accelerators are responsible, just willful and malicious use of a perfectly functional machine.

Instead in such cases, we punish those individuals who irresponsibly, willfully and at times negligently misuse products in a manner that causes harm to others. We do this in cases of deaths caused by the misuse of cars, a legal product (over 32,000 annually), irresponsible consumption of alcohol, another legal product (accounting for “88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010” ) and irresponsible behavior conducted with the simultaneous misuse of both (just over 10,000 annually).

It could be argued that the ownership and use of cars or alcoholic beverages are not inalienable rights. Certainly, there is no enumerated constitutional right to own and use those things. We have these products in our society because they serve a social utility (in the case of cars) and they bring us pleasure (in the case of alcoholic beverages). Thus, access to and use of these products is regulated under the guidance of some social utility calculus. The relative social benefit, at least of cars, is far greater than their social cost. The same is true for the social benefit of extensive gun ownership, be it directly through individualdefensive gun uses or in its role as a social sanitizer.

But fundamental human rights are not and should not ever be subject to a social utility calculus or social cost analysis.

Rights are inherent to the person and do not require anything be taken from another person. Nor do they result in the infringement or compromise of any of another person’s rights.

The fundamental realization here is that people as individuals have 1) inherent rights, and 2) agency. The full actualization of individual rights and agency is integral to individual liberty. It also comes with individual responsibility and accountability. The manufacturer of a product should no more be held to account for the misuse of a product, than the majority of any group should be collectively penalized for the bad choices of a few.

—Arthur Z Przebinda is an imaging specialist in Southern California. He advocates for the Second Amendment in his state and nationally and serves as DRGO’s Social Media Editor.

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