NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cuomo Idea On Gun Lawsuits Misses The Target

December 9, 1999

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo's threat to help 3,200 public housing authorities file a class action suit against gun manufacturers may be a smoke screen. The suits ostensibly seek billions of dollars in damages for the expenses state and local officials claim follow from gun violence.

But critics charge the ultimate remedy they seek is not damages, but a quasi-legislative settlement that would require manufacturers to alter marketing practices or require them to install such protective devices as personalized safety locks.

Critics believe such suits are misguided in several ways.

  • The suits make a parody of the democratic process, since Congress, states and local governments have passed thousands of laws designed to clamp down on gun distribution.
  • A HUD-inspired suit would isolate a single variable -- guns -- to explain violence in public housing projects, while ignoring the long train of decisions and planning that made them such dangerous establishments in the first place.
  • The gun industry doesn't pick the location for such projects, screen tenants, determine renewal and eviction policies or provide policing.
  • Orthodox tort theory, critics suggest, should make HUD and its local authorities defendants in such lawsuits, not plaintiffs.

Critics also point out that having fewer guns in the hands of citizens could lead to higher rates of gun fatalities if guns remain in the hands of criminals and are taken away from law-abiding citizens who use guns to protect themselves.

Source: Richard A. Epstein (University of Chicago), "Lawsuits Against Guns Probably Won't Hit Crime," Wall Street Journal, December 9, 1999.


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