Controlling Guns, Destroying Freedom

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

Is Clinton lying in the war of words over gun control? That depends on what the meaning of the word 'is,' is. Let's be delicate and just say that Clinton misrepresents the facts. Clinton's show biz counterpart is Tommie Flanegan, Saturday Night Live's liar: "Trigger locks on stolen guns in crack houses? Yeah, that's the ticket! That'll keep guns out of the hands of six-year-olds. A new gun-safety law on top of the 20,000 gun-control laws we already have? Yeah! That's the ticket!"

The fact that Clinton's proposal makes no sense matters not. It feels good, it's good theatre and seizing political "opportunities" puts him and his party of Gigantic Government ahead of the knuckledraggers from the "gun lobby" and those unfeeling Republicans, who apparently don't want to stop six-year-olds from killing each other at school. Cool issue positioning, eh?

The NRA fires back that enforcement of federal gun laws has declined 44 percent under the Clinton Justice Department. But facts are beside the point. Al Gore and the Democrats want the issue, Republicans won't accede to their demands, thus an election-year compromise is a no-go.

Meanwhile, the immediate threat-action in the courts-proceeds unnoticed. Thirty municipalities have filed lawsuits against gunmakers, seeking damages for the costs of gun violence. Shouldn't governments sue themselves for their lousy efforts to control violent criminals? No, that might make some sense.

Fortunately, most courts have dismissed these suits because they are based on the specious legal theory that inanimate objects rather than criminals are responsible when guns are used in crime. Some states have rightly banned cities from filing such frivolous suits. But cities and deep-pocket trial lawyers will litigate under different theories until something sticks. The Federal court in Cleveland recently allowed a suit to proceed. The idea is to bankrupt companies through litigation, once considered a breach of legal ethics.

Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gunmaker, recently agreed to a long list of demands to save itself some legal bills. S & W's surrender is unlikely to rescue the company. Fifteen cities are moving forward with their suits against S & W and several of their largest distributors and retailers are dropping the S & W product line. That leaves more of the marketplace to companies like Ruger and Beretta who refuse to compromise. Beretta's general counsel, Jeff Reh, stated, "These settlements simply encourage the use of litigation for extortion for any industry in the country. We don't think that they should be rewarded through capitulation." Makers of violent video games and fat-laden fast foods, you're next. With guns used in self-defense more than two million times annually - two to five times more often than they are used to commit crimes - the net benefit from defensive gun uses tops an estimated $38 billion annually. In a nation with 240 million firearms in private hands, fatal mishaps are few. For example, more children under age 5 drown in 5-gallon buckets each year than die by gun accidents. Naturally, the media ignore these facts. Clinton's gun legislation would cost more lives than it will save.

The Clinton crowd has beat the "save-the-children" drum once too often. They continually lie about the numbers, demand more gun-control laws and then don't enforce them later. It's all show biz. Instead of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, let's side with Thomas Jefferson who wrote, "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it."