Gun Control Proposals Off the Mark

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Fagan, professor of law and public health at Columbia University, and Stephen D. Sugarman, a professor of law at UC Berkeley, propose in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Heller, that gun manufacturers should be subject to what they call "performance-based regulation." According to Fagan and Sugarman, gun manufacturers should be forced "to deal with the negative effects of their products in ways that promote the public good."

They claim that this should occur because 12,000 Americans will be shot to death by firearms this year. They don't cite the source of that impressive-sounding figure. We must assume they are referring to homicides only, because a far greater number -- roughly 17,000 or so -- will die in gun-related suicides this year. This is based upon CDC statistics as cited by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, which noted that 55% of gun-related deaths in 2005 (the most recent year for which statistics were available) were suicides, up from 52% in 2004.

Why would they ignore the cause of the majority of firearm deaths in this country to focus on the second-leading cause? This rather bizarre focus is purposeful but required. Suicides are intensely personal acts which cannot be blamed on other individuals, nor on the implement used to cause death. Fagan and Sugarman would rather not deal with the complexities of admitting that these suicides expose their scheme as being predicated upon blaming inanimate objects for the willful actions of human beings.

Firearms manufacturers are obsessed with two design goals: safety and reliability.

Firearms must be reliable 100% of the time. If a weapon is unreliable and fails when it is needed most it could cost the weapon holder -- a police officer with a pistol or a soldier with his rifle -- his life.

As for safety concerns, few devices are designed with as much security in mind as firearms. Firearms have multiple safety devices designed to prevent an accidental discharge, from frame- or slide-mounted thumb safeties, to grip safeties, to half-cock mechanisms. Most modern gun designs include these features or others such as firing pin safeties or even trigger-mounted safeties. Guns can also have cross-bolt safeties, magazine disconnects, chamber-loaded indicators, cocking indicators, or even keyed internal locks. Those are just the various safety features that can be found on the weapons themselves. It is no exaggeration to note that modern firearms can be dropped, kicked, thrown, or run over with a vehicle without going off. They only go "bang" when the trigger is pulled.

A specific example of these kinds of features is found on the Smith & Wesson M&P series of semi-automatics, which possess passive safeties that prevent the gun from firing if dropped or sharply struck, a disconnect device that requires the trigger to be fully depressed to fire, and the availability of a keyed internal lock that locks the weapon and/or a magazine disconnect which renders it unable to fire without a magazine in place, even if a bullet is in the chamber and the trigger is pulled. Many other firearms have similar internal safety features as part of the gun itself.