20 February 2022
For the first time ever, a gun manufacturer was found to be responsible for a massacre.
As everyone who is aware of US news knows, massacres are commonplace in the US, all carried out by guns being used exactly as they were designed to be used. Oh yeah, but not used on those people…
Somehow the US gun manufacturers have had immunity from prosecution and the Sandy Hook legal team had to say that it was the irresponsible (and highly successful ) marketing that had caused the assault rifle to be used in the shooting. So they got them for the marketing, not the product.
Given the political difficulties of doing anything about guns in the US political system, it is natural that people might turn to the legal system for some hope. It is difficult, but not as hard to change as the political system.
I am reminded of the same debate in the tobacco war. For years the tobacco industry gave money to the major parties in big amounts and the deal was something like, ‘Say what you like, but no restrictive legislation till after the next election, then the next, then the next etc’. They denied knowing the health facts, but said that it was common knowledge that smoking was harmful. They had to not know so that they would not be liable, but everyone had to know because then the smokers were responsible for their own illnesses. This was known as the ‘Tightrope policy’. Of course they had done the research and knew very well, but hey, lies are common and part of many business models.
In 1983 a group in Northwest University in the US was trying to get enough money to run cases, because tobacco used exactly as intended was causing thousands of deaths every day. The industry had been very keen to be forced to put ‘Smoking is a health hazard’ on the packs. This was because they could the say that the people who smoked had been warned and they were not responsible for the consequences of using their product. They also wanted the government to tell them to put it there, so they could say that they did not know if tobacco caused cancer, but the government and health people thought so. They fought every case, generally drawing it out so that the plaintiff either died or ran out of money or both. When they were about to lose a lung cancer case in a librarian in Australia, they found out that she had had a child out of wedlock 40 years before, and said that this would be released if she did not stop the case. Such was the shame of that fact that his person, weakened by cancer, withdrew her case and died. Ruthless.
The US believed tobacco campaigners believed that their victory would come in the courts, not the parliaments, and this was true. In Australia it was a bit different as BUGA UP targeted the tobacco industry and made them such pariahs that they were politically weakened enough for advertising and sponsorship bans, plain paper packaging, rotating health warnings and eventually some-free indoor air. The tobacco industry in Australia was relatively weaker than in the US, and the gun lobby is also, but it is very unwise to be complacent.
We in Australia need to be very vigilant to keep our gun laws strong, as the Shooters have expanded their base to become the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and have capitalised on the weakness of the Nationals to get lower house seats. They have used balance of power situation in NSW quite astutely under Bob Carr and continuing. John Tingle, The Shooters MP in NSW got Carr to enact that to have a shooters licence in NSW, one had to belong to a shooting club and shoot at least once a year. The shooting Club could then keep an eye out for crazies. But of course the shooting clubs got a subsidy to maintain their records and database, and this is ideal for organising fundraising and troops on election day. Running a political party is a significant expense- only one group is subsidised, though it must be conceded that the shooting clubs and the Sporting Shooters Association (the lobby group) are not the same entity as the Shooter, Fishers and Farmers party.
We need to watch the US legal efforts, and be vigilant. And of course lessening social inequality and having a place in society for everyone with jobs, income and housing helps lessen the probability of alienation, anger and despair.