ISSUES IN FOCUS

Week of January 17, 1999

 

TYRANNY BY TORT


For those who think in principles--a redundancy made necessary by modern "education"--a recent move by statists came as no surprise.  In fact, the only wonder is what took so long for statists to figure out what a wonderfully destructive weapon they now have in their hands, a stratagem that can be used to devour freedom and plunder one industry after another.

The action and ploy to which I refer is the news that state and local governments are now attempting to put together a legal assault against gun manufacturers-- la the successful looting of the tobacco industry.

If Congress wanted to shut down, with a frontal assault, an entire industry, such as the manufacturers of tobacco products or guns, with a sweeping law outlawing such products, this action would not succeed.  Mercifully—at least for now—a majority would not support such action. Most would not support an outright prohibition of these products.

But suppose there is a backdoor, indirect method of accomplishing the goal of destroying such industries as the tobacco and gun manufacturers?  Suppose there is an indirect means of accomplishing what statist politicians cannot currently achieve in a more open manner?

There is such a method available.  It is tort law.

Tort law is loosely defined—and I emphasize "loosely"—and involves: "Damage, injury, or a wrongful act done willfully, negligently, or in circumstances involving strict liability, but not involving breach of contract, for which a civil suit can be brought."

Tort law has become a monster that is ravaging the foundation of freedom.  The Congress of the United States has given birth to this gruesome horror and has unleashed a destroyer of individual liberty.

Tort law enables legislators to destroy an industry—or, at the very least, bring it under their control—while avoiding the appearance of doing so.

Before 1890, the year America accelerated its descent into a statist society, the general rule of law in tort cases was caveat emptor, that the buyer buys at his own risk and he alone is responsible for the purchase and use of a product, not the producer of that product.  In the ensuing years, as America gradually sunk into the morass of statism, it slowly abandoned the principle that the individual is responsible for his own actions, including unsafe behavior.  Increasingly, the rule is: caveat producer—let the producer beware, because he is increasingly liable for the use and misuse of his products.

Manufacturers of virtually every kind of product are increasingly vulnerable to huge financial penalties, enabled by tort law, for the misuse of a product that brings harm to some individual.  In most cases, of course, only the individual has himself to blame for his own dangerous behavior or stupid decision—but not in the eyes of the law, not today.  About the only time the individual is held responsible for some harmful action is when it is the result of something mandated by statists, such as airbags. When someone dies from an airbag explosion, statists blame the tragedy on the individual driver or passenger who allegedly didn’t follow the safety instructions.

The upshot of the change, over the years, in tort law has been the creation of a legal nightmare in which companies must often settle a lawsuit in order to avoid the possibility of financial damage that would destroy them.  This has become a sort of extortion racket in which industries pay protection money in order to survive, even if in a crippled form.

It is clear that the organizers of the effort against gun manufacturers understand the extortive power they seek to bring to bear against gun producers.  It is equally evident that their goal is nothing less than to shut down all domestic gun manufacturers.   They hope to accomplish by lawsuit what they cannot openly and directly accomplish by legislative means.  And if they are successful, as they were with the tobacco industry, then their next step will be to lobby for the ban of the importation of guns from foreign manufacturers.  If this is ultimately accomplished, then it will effectively bring about a ban on gun ownership for any citizen who does not purchase a gun before imports are shut down.

Each year brings hundreds of new laws enacted by all levels of government.  These laws are spinning a web of legality that ensnares virtually anyone who moves to live a productive life, making each vulnerable to financial ruin from some lawsuit.  Now this web is set to trap another group of producers, with statists bringing gun manufacturers—and your right of gun ownership—into their cross hairs.

If you shoot yourself in the foot with your gun, it is your fault. And if these statists succeed in shutting down gun manufacturers, America, as a nation, will sustain a self-inflicted wound from which it may not recover.

Fulton Huxtable
January 17, 1999

Copyright 1999 Fulton Huxtable

Read news article detailing the move against the gun industry: AFTER TOBACCO SUCCESS, LAWYERS PICK GUN FIGHT

 

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