Suing Gun Manufacturers: Hazardous to Our Health

Policy Reports | Crime | Government | Regulations

No. 223
Monday, March 01, 1999
by H. Sterling Burnett


Though much has been made of the comparison between the gun lawsuits and the recently settled tobacco lawsuits, there is much to distinguish guns from cigarettes. Guns do not cause harm to the user or third parties in normal use and they are not addictive. That guns are potentially dangerous is widely known and has never been disputed by the firearms industry. Unlike tobacco, guns produce a multitude of tangible social goods: pleasures for those involved in the shooting sports, U.S. national security, police-led crime prevention and criminal apprehension efforts and effective personal defense against crime. Only a small fraction of firearms, less than 1 percent, are ever involved in violence. The clearest evidence that even the mayors suing the gun industry believe guns are beneficial is the fact that they arm police. It is not that guns are bad, it is that some people use them badly.

There is no more valid rationale for suing gun manufacturers for the improper use of their products than there would be for suing knife manufacturers or manufacturers of various blunt objects that are used in violent crimes, all of which can result in costs to governments.

"The saving to society from defensive gun use far exceeds the cost of gun violence."

When filing their lawsuits, Mayors Daley and Morial cited the substantial burden that gun-related violence imposes on the public coffers of their cities. It is clear that the cost of gun violence is substantial and, unlike the fiscal benefits provided by defensive gun use, relatively easy to measure or quantify. It is difficult to account for both the number of crimes prevented and the saving to society from crimes not committed or thwarted by defensive gun use. However difficult to quantify, this study shows that the benefits of the widespread availability of guns exceed the costs of gun violence. More crimes are prevented by guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens every year than are committed with guns. And the saving to cities from these defensive gun uses and the general saving to society from gun ownership dwarf the cost to municipalities of gun violence.

NOTE: Nothing written here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the National Center for Policy Analysis or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress.

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