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The gun industry and liability: Should gun violence be their problem?

In the 2003 movie "Runaway Jury," actor John Cusack's character Nick Easter said these words: "It is time to make gun violence the gun industry's problem."

In a fictional world, he and his costar managed to pull off an unprecedented victory against a gun manufacturer, manipulating a jury to award over $110 million to the widow of a victim of senseless gun violence--violence like the recent Sikh temple killings and the Aurora movie massacres, where two diabolical gunmen opened fire on innocent civilians.

The drama based on a John Grisham novel is fictional, but should this happen in the real world? Should the gun industry be held liable for the escalating gun violence in our society?

Like the tobacco company, the gun industry's product kills. Cigarettes contain a known carcinogen and people die everyday from lung and other cancer-related illnesses. Yet cigarettes remain legal. Similarly, guns kill but more and more highly sophisticated and dangerous ones are flooding the market daily.

Furthermore, unlike cigarettes, which are known to kill but are not manufactured as an obvious killer-- a gun's sole purpose is to kill. We can play with semantics or dance around the issue all we want, but guns are killing machines, period.

So should manufacturers bear the brunt of it and shoulder the consequences of their product? When crazed gunmen or drug cartels shoot up innocent people, should victims or their families be allowed to sue?

Arguments against this might stress that guns aren't the only product that kills. In fact, gun enthusiasts out there like to parrot the phase "guns don't kill people, people kill people," which to me, is disingenuously passing the buck. Yes, a plethora of products can be used to kill or maim. Knives, swords or even an innocent-looking pencil can be used as a fatal weapon. Though this is true and many more mundane items can be turned into a deadly weapon, how many are made primarily to kill? Let's not forget, guns were originally made for combat, for war.

The strongest argument against holding the gun industry liable for gun violence is that they are protected under the Second Amendment. Their ability to avoid any regulations is also bolstered by protection from powerful political ties. Another argument is that letting one lawsuit through the door will open up the floodgates for an unending line of litigation.

This may be true, but litigation can also force the powerful industry to tighten rules, regulations and distribution of their products. When they begin to feel the cause and effect in their massive wallets, they may call on their lobbyists and friends in Washington to pass tougher measures to ensure greater oversight on where their guns end up.

After the 20th century, the gun industry, which is now estimated at around $29 billion annually, morphed into two parts. The extremely lucrative military defense side and the less profitable small arms dealerships. The latter is where the general public get their guns for personal use.

Sophisticated assault and other weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens is proving increasingly fatal, as the body count rises in senseless mass murders in cities across America. The killing at the Sikh place of worship in Mislwaukee is the latest blood-letting, with six killed and three injured when a gunman opened fire in a Wisconsin temple on Sunday. Just two weeks prior, 12 died and dozens were injured in an Aurora movie theater in Colorado, when another massacre took place by another maniacal man wielding numerous assault weapons.

Despite the escalating loss of human lives--a reported 31,000 deaths involving firearms (including homicides, suicides, and accidents), and 70,000 non-fatal injuries related to guns annually--the powerful juggernaut of political alliances in Washington and the NRA continue to ward off any and all forms of regulations, keeping a stranglehold on citizens' rights to bear arms trumping all else. This industry is so powerful that presidents and presidential candidates past and present, have sidestepped the issue more artfully than a skillful ballerina.

According to this article by truecostblog.com, gun rights « True Cost, the equivalent economic loss of 31,000 deaths and 70,000 injuries is $1.4 million per death or $43 billion, assuming that the average person loses about 35 years of income at a median of $40,000 annually. This is based on the CDC's data that the gun deaths peak between the ages of 18-24 and drop of by the age of 30.

Mind you, this data is based on a 1994 study published in JAMA, which also concluded that medical costs from gun injuries cost another $2.3B, or $4B today including inflation, bringing the total economic costs to $47 billion per year for the gun industry.

If the gun industry could be held liable for gun deaths, which in turn would affect their bottom line, would this drastically reduce gun violence?

What do you think? Like Cusack's character said in "Runaway Jury, is it time gun violence becomes the gun industry's problem?

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