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Shooting Up the Constitution

Kris Schnee

Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell wants to get rid of guns in America. Last year, he met with gun manufacturers and tried to persuade them to make guns with lock systems and to support restrictions on gun sales. When Rendell was rejected, he went to the courts.

Of course, many crimes are committed by criminals with guns, and cities spend tax dollars on policemen's salaries, counseling for victims' families, and other expensive tasks. Although the argument is flawed, it is somewhat reasonable to say that if the gun industry is causing huge financial costs to American cities, it must reimburse taxpayers for those costs. It makes sense for Rendell to appeal to the courts to decide whether the gunmakers have this responsibility.

But that is not Rendell's strategy. Instead of simply getting a court decision on the issue, he wants to harass firearms manufacturers into submission by getting 50 to 100 cities to file lawsuits. Rendell believes the cost to the industry of simultaneously defending itself against so many lawsuits will help his chances for success.

The American gun industry is not prosperous. Threatened by foreign competition, domestic companies cannot afford to fight off an infinite number of lawsuits. Corporations often find it cheaper to settle a frivolous lawsuit than to let each case go to trial. The system rewards people who demand money from corporations even for laughable reasons and gives people like Rendell a way to destroy entire industries.

Whether there is any substance to lawsuits brought against the gunmakers, the companies may be forced out of business by legal costs. Rendell would like to ruin thousands of workers' careers and remove a product from the market not by lawful legislation but by legal harassment. His attempt to circumvent the way we make laws is unacceptable.

Let's say we allow anyone to sue an industry into bankruptcy because its customers, fully knowing the risks of what they are buying, hurt themselves or other people. Following on the heels of the tobacco lawsuits, we should expect to see a round of lawsuits against the fast food industry. McDonald's and the other fast food chains are knowingly selling a dangerous product which could cause heart disease; shouldn't they take the blame for heart attacks and obesity? Alcohol makers could be sued not only for causing health problems but for causing car crashes and spousal abuse. The automobile industry would pay for the danger and pollution speeding cars create. IBM and Intel could be sued out of business for building such good computers that they can be used to commit crimes electronically, or MIT could be sued for giving potential computer crackers their skills.

Of course, the idea of suing Intel or Burger King is ridiculous, but if we allow Rendell's legal tactics, how can we prevent someone from doing exactly that? It will become economically impractical to do business in America if companies can be ruined by people filing not even winning lawsuits against them.

Wars of legal attrition should not be the new way to make policy. The best ways for America to reduce crime and violence are by honest legislation and individual initiative. People like Rendell make matters worse by abusing our court system, subverting the Second Amendment and the rest of the Constitution they were sworn to protect.

Instead of hurling lawsuits, why don't concerned citizens like Rendell try democracy? Rendell should use the normal legislative process to achieve his goals.If Rendell decides to force gun control on Philadelphia without consulting anyone, then the people whose rights he ignores should give him their opinion during the next election.