Second Amendment Project Newsletter. Jan 12, 2000

About once a month, Dave Kopel produces a free e-mail Newsletter containing short summaries and links to important new research and writing involving the Second Amendment and firearms policy. The newsletter also reports on Kopel's latest writing.

The content of this newsletter is produced by the Second Amendment Project at the Independence Institute, a think tank in Golden, Colorado. The newsletter is electronically distributed by the Second Amendment Foundation in Bellevue, Washington. Thus, the Second Amendment Foundation will be given your e-mail address.

Archive of past issues.

The Second Amendment Project is based at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.

Table of Contents for this issue

1. New on the web: Gun shows; media bias; history, "public health."

2. "Strongarm Suits." Dave Kopel on the anti-gun lawsuits,

in the new issue of Liberty magazine.

3. Humor: The Journalists Guide to Gun Violence Coverage.

By Michael Brown.

1. New on the Web

a. "The Facts about Gun Shows." by David B. Kopel. January 10, 2000

Opinion editorial for the Cato Institute.

b. "Outgunned: How The Network News Media Are Spinning the Gun Control Debate"

Major new report on media bias against gun owners.

By the Media Research Center. 

c. Clayton Cramer's website. Full of interesting material, with lots of Second Amendment history and policy.

d. The "Public Health" Approach to Gun Control

by Bradley J. Foster. A gun owner reports from an anti-gun "public health" conference.

2. "Strongarms Suits." By David Kopel

Liberty Magazine, Feb. 2000. Pages 35-36.

Gun prohibition groups have had a rough time in recent years. Even after the Columbine High School murders, they were unable to push any major new anti-gun laws through Congress, or through any states other than California. The demand for new laws to "do something" about Columbine ran into the problem that none of the proposed new laws (like destroying gun shows through administrative regulation) could possibly have prevented Columbine.

But the anti-gun groups are nothing if not creative. Thus, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (the litigation arm of Handgun Control, Inc.) has orchestrated lawsuits all over the country against handgun manufacturers. The suits have been brought by the CPHV in conjunction with twenty-nine big-city mayors, including the mayors of New Orleans, Chicago, Miami, and St. Louis.

In late December, President Clinton and Andrew Cuomo (the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) announced that HUD would join the suits too, unless gun manufacturers surrendered to the plaintiffs' demands. HUD deceived Congress on August 4, 1999, when HUD's General Counsel, Gail Laster, told the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources: "HUD has no authority on its own to bring litigation. . . . I repeat, HUD does not plan to bring any action on its own against the gun industry."

And since HUD will be filing suit in the name of thousands of public housing authorities throughout the United States, rather than in its own name, Ms. Laster's testimony was deliberately misleading, but not, strictly speaking, a flat-out lie.

Political analysts speculated that the HUD lawsuit was an effort to raise Cuomo's profile, since he is rumored to be a leading contender for the Vice Presidency, should Al Gore win the Presidential nomination. Additionally, Mr. Clinton appeared to be displaying the antipathy to gun owners which is common among rapists and other violent predators.

If we put aside the motives of the suitors, we find that the suits are vexatious, and based on untenable theories. First, there is the allegation that handgun companies have conspired to keep their products from having various childproof devices, or devices to keep unauthorized persons from using the guns.

These kinds of product liability suits have already been tried in numerous courts, with private plaintiffs abetted by the CPHV. The cases have been a universal failure. For example, in the 1999 California case of Dix v. Beretta, not only did the CPHV lose, the California trial court ordered the CPHV to pay part of Beretta's litigation costs.

The cases founder because the "safety" devices which the CPHV demands make the gun less reliable. For example, a "magazine disconnect" prevents a gun from firing even if there is bullet in the chamber, unless the magazine (ammunition clip) is in the gun. So if someone drops the magazine clip while attempting to put it in the gun in an emergency, the gun becomes of no use, and the gun-owner could be killed by a criminal. For this reason, many police officers refuse to buy guns with magazine disconnects.

Other devices which the CPHV demands haven't been invented yet, like palm print recognition devices embedded in a gun's grip. Even if they were invented, many users would not want to trust their lives to a microchip functioning instantly and perfectly.

Even simpler devices are not foolproof. At a December 1998 Mayors' meeting, CPHV attorney Dennis Henigan attempted to demonstrate how easy it is to remove a trigger lock in an emergency; he wasn't even able to get it off the gun.

Spurred by an earlier round of failed suits by anti-gun groups, many states in the 1980s enacted "defectless product liability" laws which prevent product liability suits from being brought against firearms which work as intended. Thus, some of the city suits evade the product liability issue by raising claims of "negligent marketing" and "public nuisance" -- claiming that the handgun companies deliberately supply handguns to criminals.

One supposed proof of this claim is that in recent decades, handgun companies have brought out new models which are smaller and more powerful than previous models. This is certainly true, but it is hardly proof that the guns are made for criminals. Thirty-one states allow adults who can pass a background check and a safety class to obtain a permit to carry a handgun for protection. Many of the other nineteen allow handgun carrying in certain circumstances even without a permit (for example, in one's car while traveling). Thus, there is a large market of lawful purchasers who are especially interested in portable guns with enough stopping power to disable a criminal. The city lawsuits ignore this fact.

The refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of defensive gun sales is not surprising, since CPHV head Sarah Brady opposes all non-government defensive gun ownership. "To me, the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes," she explains.

In a direct assault on the First Amendment, suits have also been brought against three firearms industry trade associations, which do not sell guns; they do nothing other than educate the public and lobby against various measures pushed by the gun prohibition groups.

While the lawsuits are unlikely to succeed, the sheer cost of litigation could be fatal to many handgun companies, as former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell (the first mayor to consider a lawsuit) happily noted. Even if all the gun companies in America were put together, they would not constitute a single Fortune 500 company.

The lawsuits are cleverly structured to prevent the defendants From filing a motion to consolidate the cases (which would reduce legal costs). And the lawyers working at CPHV's direction have been smart enough not to sue ammunition manufacturers, who are much wealthier than gun companies, and who could easily afford to pay for lawyers to handle every case from start to finish.

Unlike the cigarette companies, the handgun companies cannot buy off the tort lawyers and politicians by giving them a share of the companies' profits. And unlike cigarette executives, handgun company officers have never claimed that handguns do not kill.

But besides killing, handguns also save many innocent lives (sometimes by killing criminals). That is why every police department in America buys handguns from the very same companies that the mayors are suing. How hypocritical for the mayors to sue the very companies which enhance public safety by providing the mayors' own police departments with firearms. Indeed, most of these mayors are protected 24 hours a day by taxpayer-paid police bodyguards who are outfitted with firearms supplied by the lawsuit victims. So are Andrew Cuomo and Bill Clinton, who are guarded by the Secret Service.

If Clinton, Cuomo, and the gun-hating Mayors actually believe that trigger locks, palm-print readers, and other "safety devices do not make guns unreliable, they'd insist that their own bodyguards use guns equipped with such devices.

Legislation to outlaw the abusive lawsuits has been enacted in fifteen states, including Texas, where Gov. Bush enthusiastically signed the bill. (In fact, he signed just a few weeks after Columbine.) Similar national legislation has been proposed by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.). Notably, the legislation is supported by groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce, which have little interest in guns per se, but which recognize that if the gun cases succeed, then companies that make alcohol, automobiles, high-fat food, knives, and many other products will be next in line for tort lawyer predation.

Although the CPHV protests that the legislative reforms interfere with its litigation rights, there is no right to bring vexatious litigation which chills the exercise of constitutional rights; that is why the Supreme Court, in the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan, restricted libel suits which chilled First Amendment rights.

Legislation to ban lawsuit abuse reaffirms the fundamental principle of our republican government that policy decisions about important matters (such as banning guns) are the responsibility of the legislature acting under the Constitution; a collection of tort lawyers, mayors, a cabinet secretary, and a violent criminal should not be allowed to usurp the legislative power.

3. "The Journalist's Guide to Gun Violence Coverage."

By Dr. Michael Brown.

Guns are a sad fact of life in American culture and are a major topic in modern journalism. A good Journalist has a duty to get involved and make a difference in this important societal debate. By following certain guidelines, the concerned Journalist can be assured of having the maximum impact on this shameful problem.

The first principle to remember is that subtle use of terminology can covertly influence the reader. Adjectives should be chosen for maximum anti-gun effect. When describing a gun, attach terms like automatic," "semi-automatic," "large caliber," "deadly," "high powered," or "powerful." Almost any gun can be described by one or more of these terms. More than two guns should be called an "arsenal."

Try to include the term "assault weapon" if at all possible. This can be combined with any of the terms above for best results. Nobody actually knows what an assault weapon is, so you cannot be criticized for this usage. Your local anti-gun organization can provide you with a list of the latest buzz words like "junk guns," "Saturday Night Specials," and "the criminal's weapon of choice."

Don't worry about getting technical details right. Many a reporter has accidentally written about semi-automatic revolvers or committed other minor errors. Since most people know little about guns, this is not a problem. Only the gun nuts will complain and they don't count. The emotional content of your article is much more important than the factual details, since people are more easily influenced through their emotions than through logic.

Broadcast Journalists should have a file tape showing a machine gun firing on full automatic. Run this video while describing "automatic" weapons used in a crime or confiscated by police.  At the least, a large graphic of a handgun should be displayed behind the on-air personality when reading any crime story.

Do not waste words describing criminals who use guns to commit crimes. Instead of calling them burglar, rapist, murderer, or repeat offender, simply use the term "gunman." This helps the public associate all forms of crime and violence with the possession of guns.

Whenever drug dealers are arrested, guns are usually confiscated by the police. Mention the type and number of guns more prominently than the type and quantity of drugs.  Include the number of rounds of ammunition seized, since the number will seem large to those who know little about guns. Obviously, the drug dealers who had the guns should now be called "gunmen."

Political discussions on gun control legislation usually involve pro-gun organizations. Always refer to these organizations as "the gun lobby."  If space permits, mention how much money the gun lobby has spent to influence political campaigns and describe their legislative lobbying efforts as "arm twisting" or "threats."

Gun owners must never be seen in a positive light. Do not mention that these misguided individuals may actually be well educated, or have respectable jobs and healthy families. They should be called "gun nuts" if possible or simply gun owners at best. Mention details about their clothing, especially if they are wearing hunting clothes or hats. Mention the simplistic slogans on their bumper stickers to show that their intelligence level is low. Many gun owners drive pickup trucks, hunt and live in rural areas. Use these details to help portray them as ignorant rednecks. Don't use the word "hunt." Always say that they "kill" animals.

Don't be afraid to interview these people, they are harmless even though we don't portray them that way. Try to solicit comments that can be taken out of context to show them in the worst possible light.

Never question the effectiveness of gun control laws or proposals. Guns are evil and kill people. Removing guns from society can only be good. Nobody really uses guns for legitimate self-defense, especially women or children. Any stories about armed self-defense must be minimized or suppressed.

Be careful about criticizing the police for responding slowly to 911 calls for help. It is best if the public feels like the police can be relied upon to protect them at all times. If people are buying guns to protect their families, you are not doing your job.

Emphasize stories where people kill family members and/or themselves with guns. It is important to make the public feel like they could lose control and start killing at any moment if they have a gun in the house. Any story where a child misuses a gun is front page material.

View every shooting as an event to be exploited. Always include emotional quotes from the victim's family if possible. If they are not available, the perpetrator's family will do nicely. The quote must blame the tragedy on the availability of guns. Photos or video of grieving family members are worth a thousand facts. Most people will accept the assertion that guns cause crime. It is much easier than believing that some people deliberately choose to harm others.

Your story should include terms like "tragic" or "preventable" and mention the current toll of gun violence in your city or state. Good reporters always know exactly how many gun deaths have occurred in their area since the first of the year. List two or three previous incidents of gun violence to give the impression of a continuing crime wave.

Little space should be devoted to shootings where criminals kill each other. Although these deaths greatly inflate the annual gun violence numbers, they distract from the basic mission of urging law abiding citizens to give up their guns.  Do not dig too deeply into the reasons behind shootings. The fact that a gun was involved is the major point, unless someone under 18 is affected, in which case the child angle is now of equal importance.

Any article about gun violence should include quotes from anti-gun organizations or politicians. One quote should say that we must do something "for the children." Anti-gun spokespersons should be called "activists" or "advocates." If your employer wishes to appear unbiased, you can include one token quote from a gun lobby group to show that you are being fair. The anti-gun statements should be accepted as fact. The gun lobby statement can be denigrated by including text like, "according to gun lobbyist Jones."

Fortunately, statements from anti-gun organizations come in short sound bites that are perfect for generating an emotional response in the reader or viewer. Gun lobby statements usually contain boring facts that are easy to ignore.

Feel secure in your advocacy journalism. The vast majority of your fellow Journalists support your activism. The nation will be a better place when only the police and military have guns. Remember that you are doing it for the children so the end justifies the means.

Eventually, the government will have a monopoly on power. Don't worry about the right to freedom of the press, just contact me then for more helpful hints.

Professor Michael Brown

School of Journalism, Brady Chair

Vancouver College of Liberal Arts

Political Satire, copyright 1999, Michael Brown.  May be reproduced freely in its full and complete form. The author may be contacted at

As always, the Independence Institute website contains  extensive information on:

Criminal Justice and the Second Amendment:

The Columbine High School murders:  and

The Waco murders:

The Independence Institute's on-line bookstore. Start your

browsing at the Second Amendment section:

That's all folks!

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