February 1999

A Grave Threat To Gun Ownership

Most gun owners I know are jammed up about the elevation of New York’s Charles “Chuckie” Schumer from the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate. In fact, the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine recently cited Schumer’s win as one of the gun-rights organization’s high-profile losses in the November 1998 elections.

But there’s another person who poses a much graver, much more insidious threat to gun ownership than even Schumer the schemer: Elisa Barnes. Ms. Barnes is the lead attorney for Brooklyn plaintiffs who are suing the gun industry under a novel theory. In the Hamilton lawsuit, eponymously named for the lead plaintiff, the gun fascists are going after the industry as a whole, saying gun makers like Beretta, Smith & Wesson, Colt’s, Glock, and Sturm, Ruger “oversupply” certain markets—resulting in sales to criminals. Barnes and her cohorts argue that as a result of this criminal oversupply in less-regulated states like Florida, these guns are put in the hands of murderers, burglars, and other bottom dwellers who then prey on the hapless, unprotected citizens of states like New York, which have more stringent gun laws. Ms. Barnes, who represents the municipality of Brooklyn in the Hamilton case, wants money to clean up the blood from the streets this supposed transfer of guns causes. She blames the gun industry as a whole for not policing its chain of distribution, essentially saying that gun companies are negligent when a crackhead in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood shoots somebody.

Those of us who own and use guns responsibly read such “novel” litigation theories and wonder how the world got so upside down, when gun manufacturers selling safe, reliable, and (currently) legal products are assailed for the actions of lawbreakers. Moreover, we should worry not only about whether this legal stratagem works, but whether defending it will become so expensive that the industry rolls over and settles. Is this so unimaginable, when you look at what has happened to cigarette manufacturers? That industry, which unquestionably is much better funded than the gun makers, has settled numerous litigations coordinated through state attorneys general to reimburse various states for certain health costs.

Unquestionably, municipal plaintiffs represented by the likes of Elisa Barnes in New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York believe they have a strategy that can bankrupt the industry, and accomplish their gun-control agenda through the back door. They know that if they act in a coordinated way, it will likely be prohibitively expensive for gun manufacturers to respond to all of these suits, and the industry will bow.

In my view, that’s why Elisa Barnes is more dangerous to our gun liberties than even the Chuckster. For at least two more years, Schumer’s legislative agenda will likely be blocked by pro-gun majorities in Congress. He will essentially be the lap dog of gun confiscators, yapping annoyingly but not doing much. Ms. Barnes, on the other hand, along with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, and other municipal leaders pose a clear and present danger to our gun rights. Hopefully, the federal courts will see through Ms. Barnes’s twisting of civil law and throw out the Hamilton suit, and voters will likewise do the same with officials who support her.

-Todd Woodard