“Just Put Down That Law Suit, Pardner, and No One Gets Hurt.”
By Greg Palast
There are 200 million guns in civilian hands in the United States. That works out at 200 per lawyer. Wade through the foaming websites of the anti-Semites, weekend militiamen and Republicans, and it becomes clear that many among America’s well-armed citizenry have performed the same calculation. Because if there is any hope of the ceasefire that they fear, it will come out of the barrel of a lawsuit.
And that is why a shoot-to-kill coalition in the Senate, led by Wild Bill Frist (R-Tenn) and his simpering sidekick, Scary Harry Reid (D-Nev), voted yesterday to grant immunity from law suits to gun makers.
First, the score. Gunshot deaths in the US are way down – to only 88 a day. Around 87,000 lucky Americans were treated for bullet wounds last year; 32,436 unlucky ones died, including a dozen policemen by their own weapons.
For Americans, America remains more deadly than Iraq.
In one typical case, a young man, Steven Fox, described feeling pieces of his brain fly from his skull after a mugger shot him. He is permanently paralyzed.
But, hey, that’s business for you. And what a business it is. Guns, ammo and accessories are a $6 billion-a-year honey pot for several corporations: Glock, Smith & Wesson, Colt and too many others.
But, the gun-o-philiacs say, what does po’ widdle Smith & Wesson have to do with a mugger who uses its gun in an unsocial manner?
This cop-out drives Elisa Barnes crazy. Barnes is the lawyer who brought the groundbreaking lawsuit against handgun manufacturers which, for the first time, were found negligent in abetting a criminal.
It’s lawyers like Barnes — and victims like Fox — that the Senate went gunning for.
Barnes thought it was just too convenient for gun makers to blame the criminal alone. Through investigation and statistical analysis she concluded that sales to criminals are a much-valued – if unpublicized – market segment sought out and provisioned by these upstanding manufacturers.
Her calculations are compelling. Gun companies dumped several million weapons into outlets in states with few curbs on purchases, super-saturating the legal market so that excess would flow up the “Iron Pipeline” to meet black market demand in New York and other big cities.
Like the company that sells cigarette rolling papers in quantities far outstripping sales of legal tobacco, gun manufacturers have a nod-and-wink understanding of where their products end up. Their market models cannot account for half the gun sales in loose-law states such as Georgia.
Nor can industry executives fail to have noticed the 800,000 requests to them from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency to trace guns recovered from crime scenes.
The Fox case jury found a dozen gun makers guilty of negligent distribution. The shooter’s gun was never found. Unable to determine which company made the gun that fired the bullet into Fox’s head, the jury ordered all the makers of .25 caliber weapons in the case to pony up $5 million for Fox’s care and pain.
Fox’s victory burst the dam. Several hundred lawyers – including the Costanza group, the combine of firms that mangled the tobacco industry – filed suits to make sure the gun industry feels our pain. New Orleans was the first of thirty cities in court demanding that gun purveyors pay the cost of gathering the wounded off the streets, and the cost of arming the municipal police force in self-defense. The legal profession might have finally accomplished what a cowering Congress dare not consider: shutting down firearms sales at source.
The NAACP weighed in with a massive class-action suit on behalf of thousands of the wounded and dead, based on yet another theory: product liability. I spoke to one of their counsel, Mike Hausfeld, just after he returned from beating Hitler in a US courtroom.
Fifty years after WWII, Hausfeld’s firm brought a suit against Mercedes-Benz, Siemens, BASF and others who used slave labor from concentration and prison camps under the Nazi regime. The defendants agreed to create a $1.2 billion compensation fund.
Hausfeld concedes the companies were acting under orders of the Reich, but points out: “Contemporary industrial empires were made from those profits. In 1938 Henry Ford received a medal from the Führer, and his German plants continued to provide Ford income through 1942. Those profits belong to the victims.”
Hitler’s manufacturers finally coughed up their blood money when the defense, “We were only taking orders,” failed to impress US judges.
Glock’s profits belong to its victims as well. But as soon as our President signs the new law, “We were only taking orders” (for more guns) will be a Bush-blessed defense.
Republican Majority Leader Frist makes a big deal about being a doctor. He must believe the Hippocratic Oath changed from, “First, do no harm,” to “Shoot first, then run for President.”
It’s not nice to say, but there’s only one way to stop Doctor Death. In 2008, I hope to see the headline, “Senator Frist Slain in a Hail of Ballots.”
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Subscribe to his commentaries at www.GregPalast.com.