LIABILITY

For over a dozen years, Stephen P. Teret has been researching and thinking about gun violence in America. In his position as director of the Johns Hopkins University Injury Prevention Center, Teret has become interested in the question of whether weapons manufacturers can be held liable for the damage their products cause people.

One promising area would be to hold gunmakers accountable for making their guns as safe as possible.

"There are things that could be done with existing technology to make handguns safer," says Teret, "and reduce dramatically certain types of tragic shootings--such as the child who plays with a parent's gun, a teenager who commits suicide, or an owner shot with his own gun by an intruder.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

"The way to do this is to personalize the gun to the owner. The low-tech way is to provide a combination lock on the gun. The owner is the only person who knows the combination, so when it is 'locked' no one else can shoot it.

"The high tech way involves implanting an electrical component or receptor in the gun that is activated only by a transmitter that the owner keeps in a bracelet or ring.

"Guns can easily be child-proofed in these or other ways," adds Teret. "In fact, Smith & Wesson used to sell a 'child-proof' model. Now, however, they are pushing their LadySmith handgun on young women, but they are not child-proofed even though common sense says a lot of these young women are going to be around children. So the question is, will the company be liable when something terrible happens?

"Who has moral blame? The shooter or the manufacturer, or both? What about the board of directors of the company making the guns? They are discharging a pollutant into the stream of commerce. They make decisions that have life-and-death implications for other people, but they make them on the basis of profit and loss, because of the lack of regulation by the government."