Friday, October 21, 2005

Barrow Runs Right, Gets Cozy With the NRA

If you've been following the news lately, you might be aware that Congress passed (and presumably the Preznit will sign) a bill limiting the liability of gun manufacturers, essentially protecting them from the threat of being sued by victims of gun crimes.

This was, by the way, a top issue for the NRA this year.

You know what? Whatever. We're not even surprised enough to be pissed off anymore. Just a little sad that Barrow puts gun manufacturers' bottom line above victims' rights.

But we're really a little more interested in whether he thinks that stuff like this is going to:
A. Endear him to conservative voters in the new 12th.
B. Get him an NRA endorsement over Max Burns.

"The people don't want a phony Democrat. If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat" (Harry Truman, 05/17/52: Complete speech available here.)

Of course, there's also the possibility that Barrow legitmately believes that people shouldn't be able to sue gun manufacturers, and we admit that.

But, consider this. The guy made his bundle as a trial lawyer, and then proceeded to raise money for his campaign mostly from trial lawyers. And by trial lawyers, we generally mean personal injury types, just the guys who stand to make lotsa dough by suing gun manufacturers on behalf of victims. Perplexing why he'd support this (which to trial lawyers, amounts to a type of "tort reform"), since it threatens his livelihood and that of a lot of his donors, if this is the first step to serious national tort reform. Coupled with the bill limiting the liability of certain drug makers that also passed, we think it might be an incremental step towards tort reform.

So, we guess screwing your donors is worth it. As long as you're buddy-buddy with the NRA.

Related: The roll call
Text of the bill



Buck Laughlin said...

How about it's just a good bill?

Suing a gun manufacturer when some crackhead blows away a convenience store clerk is about as insipid as suing GM because that old geezer plowed through the crowd at the dock a while back.

Jmac said...

You know, I don't know about this one.

Granted, I don't particularly like it when Democrats run right or Republicans run left (though I do admit, that's a necessary evil in the world of politics), but not every one is ideologically pure. So while I love the Truman quote - it's one of my favorites actually - I think that particular quote lines up more with someone like a Joe Lieberman, who for all practical purposes, is a Republican.

Though if Barrow is shamelessly running right to get elected - and there is some evidence of that with regard to his stance on flag burning, gay marriage and now this - it does signify he could be guilty of this.

As far as the actual bill, I don't know. I'm no NRA member by any means, but I don't really get the point of suing the manufacturers. I'd want the person who fired the weapon to face the music - and if a person illegally sold the firearm to the one who used it, then same goes for them - but to sue someone who makes something which is perfectly legal to own in this country and has nothing to do with how someone uses that product seems a bit off to me.

That is, of course, unless the manufacturer is working to abuse the law or puts out a faulty product which is injuring or killing people. But I don't know if this legislation covers that or not ... anyone?

Jmac said...

Holy Lord ... I may agree with Buck on something.

hillary said...

Can I be with Johnathan and Buck on this (sort of) and still think Barrow is a douche and voted for it for the wrong reasons?

Publius said...

yeah, that's kind of where I am too. Seriously, guns aren't like tobacco. There wasn't an industry-wide gun conspiracy to hide the fact the can f-ing kill you.

But, I don't think that gun manufacturers deserve any sort of special protection from liability either. If a lawyer can prove a case to an enlightened jury (which I doubt), then fine. We have a justice system for a reason, and it works just fine.

So, I don't support a handout for this industry, especially since it doesn't even need a bailout.

However, I would point out that this bill is apparently designed not with individuals' lawsuits in mind, but to hamper governments from suing gun makers in cases similar to the tobacco lawsuits that actually succeeded.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

I don't know the specifics of the bill (I know you posted the link, but damnit, I'm busy), but my knee-jerk reaction to the idea of it is that we already have a million mechanisms to weed out unmeritorious lawsuits, including but not limited to the following:

1) Motions to Dismiss
2) Motions for Summary Judgment
3) The rules of proximate cause (granted that would be after it's already gotten to a jury).
4) Rule 11
5) The fact that most Plaintiff's lawyers take cases on contingency fees, and therefore usually only take cases they think they can win.

etc., etc., etc.
I'm not convinced that these wouldn't eliminate the silly examples you give.

Now, if it is specifically designed to stop tobacco-style government lawsuits, I might be inclined to agree with the rest of you. There has been no deception on the part of gunmakers; we know that guns kill people (no they don't; rappers do).

Although, once again, if there's no merit to those type of suits, they shouldn't succeed either for the same reasons I've mentioned, so why have a special bill?

I'm just saying.

hillary said...

Yeah, exactly. Hence the feelings of conflict. I'm not down with all this "let's get rid of the consumer's right to sue" legislation, but I don't like the tobacco lawsuits either. It really is a love note to the NRA, but I also don't like the idea of the government suing gun manufacturers. Bluck.

Fishplate said...

Well, one might say that contingency lawyers take only the cases they think they can settle. There's a difference - if you can convince the manufacturer that it's going to cost them a bundle to fight, why not settle for a smaller expenditure? That's a win for the lawyer - even though a sensible juror would see right through it, the defendant can't necessarily take that chance. Served on a jury lately?

Instead of limits on who can be sued, how about a "loser pays" system ? Serves the same purpose, since now the contingency lawyer has to weigh the likelihood of settlement vs. the bundle he'll have to fork over to an army of Smith & Wesson lawyers if his suit instead of risking receiving ~nothing~ for his hours, he risks losing a substantial amount for each hour.

Buck Laughlin said...

All of which contributes to the cost of a gun, or the cost of anything else you buy.

Loser pays? Fine by me. It sure beats We All Pay, which is what happens now.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Loser pays is an interesting idea; that's sorta the way they do it in the UK. I'm not necessarily opposed to it, in fact it has a nice roll off the tongue to it, but I'd have to think through all of the ramifications more before I committed to a position.

And, once again, not to keep harping, but they are already provisions for the winning side to get awards of attorneys fees in frivolous cases.

Buck Laughlin said...

Yes, but only after we've spent God knows how much time and money determining that they are, in fact, frivolous cases.

There is one hell of a delicate balance to be struck here, and I'm not sure a blanket "loser pays" is really the way to go. But I'm sure that Dodge City in the courtroom is definitely not the way to go.

How do we protect my right to recourse while at the same time protecting my right to pursue commerce?

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

And actually, since you mention it, I have been called for jury duty lately, although I predictably wasn't chosen to serve. I have the opportunity to witness juries in action on a regular basis in my job, and despite the horror stories and general accusations of ineptness, like the one you just threw out, my experience is that 95%+ of the time, they come to a reasoned, fair, just decision. But leave it to the media and those who don't want people to have their day in court to focus on that <5% (which, again, can be remedied by Directed Verdicts, Appeals, Knocking down of jury awards, etc.).

Publius said...

"How do we protect my right to recourse while at the same time protecting my right to pursue commerce?"

That's a rational question. For what its worth, I like the system we have now, and am not nearly enough of a legal scholar to suggest any meritorious changes. But, I would point out that lawsuits (any court proceedings, really) are based on the facts and the law.

Sometimes, it takes awhile to filter through all of that to decide whether a case is frivolous or not. My two cents, it's the price we pay for having the justice system we do.

And besides, efficiency isn't my number one requirement in a system of justice. I doubt it's anyone else's either.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that those who preach free market and no regulation 99% of the time want to pass laws to distort the market when it comes to the civil justice system?

You guys can't have it both ways; either we regulate business more closely, a la most european countries, or we allow our current system of 'private enforcement' through private lawsuits, to provide the economic check necessary to minimize the production and selling of dangerous products.

Personally, I think stricter regulation on the front end is more efficient, spreads costs more evenly, and results in less deaths and injuries. Some of y'all might call me a socialist for that, though.


Fishplate said...

I'm not sure I threw out a general accusation, but I will point out some anecdotal evidence. (Is that the same thing?) I get called for jury duty about once a year, and I have no reason to think my experiences are unique. Despite being engaged in a profession that relies on logical deduction and critical thinking, I get chosen to serve almost every time. Typically I am the most experienced juror of the twelve or fourteen selected. I like to serve as foreman, so things will move along quickly, which is where I have a problem. In almost every jury I've served on (seven in the last ten years) there is at least one individual who depends on emotion to make a decision, notwithstanding the obvious facts that are germaine to the case. Quite often one side or the other tries to sway the emotions of the jury, to the detriment of a decision founded on facts. Getting everyone to lay their emotions and attitudes aside in order to do the task with which we are charged is sometimes damn near impossible. So the reasoned, fair and just decision depends on an emotional aspect which is impossible to separate, and not always relevant. One side or the other making a powerful emotional appeal can make all the difference.

And dare I mention the additional costs of appeals of verdicts and awards? That kind of work doesn't come cheap...

(Another anecdote) I am watching a case right now involving the State - completely frivolous and without merit, yet so far (ante litem, no discovery yet) everone has to proceed as if it is going to trial. I can see how it would be ~much~ cheaper to pay this individual to go away, rather than litigate. (I only hope the State has the stones not to cave) If the plaintiff had to risk paying the State, then they might reexamine their case.

I would only add that you may be right that 95% of the time juries come to a just asnd fair decision - according to one of the parties, anyway... You should have seen the defense counsel's face when I last handed in a verdict - he looked like I'd just slapped his mama...

I wonder how often the losing party thinks the decision was just and fair? Perhaps that's an indication of a frivolus suit?

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

If we want a justice system that makes both parties happy with the result every time, we're going to have a difficult time. Of course the loser doesn't like it; that doesn't make the verdict crazy or invalid.

As to your statement about "emotion" in the proceedings of jurors, two things:

1) Jurors decide the facts and apply the law given to them by the judge. If the facts are emotional, it may not be entirely possible to remove the emotion. Sorry, that's humanity for you. Somewhere along the line we decided that it would be better for a group of average people to decide our disputes that one emotionless judge. For better or for worse, that's the way it is.
2) That's one reason there's 12 (or 6) of you. In most groups of 12, there will be somebody like you who gets everybody organized and refocused on what you're supposed to be doing.

I'm simply saying that the results coming out of the juries I'm watching tend to be very close to what I expected or would have done myself in the case. Obviously I'm not privy to their deliberations, and so I can't analyze their methodology. It may be that every single time somebody is in their arguing emotion in derogation of the facts and the law. But, however they do it, they ultimately compromise and debate and do whatever they do, and the net result is usually within the range of reasonableness, in my opinion.

hillary said...

I'm still astounded someone gets called more than I do (6 times in 10 years). Of course, I never get picked. And I don't even wear my "I heart gangsta rap" T-shirt.

Fishplate said...

Yeah, the result is usually reasonable, at least in my experience. But the getting there is so damn difficult, that I feel anyone less reasonable than me will go with the flow...with unreasonable results. Maybe general humankind is better in the aggregate than I give them credit for...

andyrusk said...

Remember ladies and germs, Mr. Barrow had his district cut out from under him, and the man's gotta do what the man's gotta do to keep hios head above water. Admitted, I like the guy. The time may come when he does sacrifice too much personal integrity/whatever just to keep his hat in the ring in a conservative district, but that time has not come yet.

A wise man once said, "There is a fine line between selling out and cashing in."

I lean hard left on most of my politics, but not the gun issue.

Guns cause crime like spoons make fat people fat.

Obvious said...

Has anyone considered that this may be a good deal for both sides?

The bill bans lawsuits over LEGAL marketing but continues to allow them for ILLEGAL marketing, product defects, and other basic liability issues. It also bans armor piercing bullets from sale to private parties in the US, and mandates that locks be sold with every gun.

So in short, in exchange for eliminating lawsuits that are unlikely to ever succeed, we get an end to cop killer bullets and a lock with every new gun. Actually a pretty good deal... No?

ahs13 said...

I like the "spoon makes people fat" idea.

The focus should be on the criminal. This bill helps keep victums and society from heading away from the criminal.

If a firearm is defective and hurts someone, then the manufacturer is still held accountable.

Should we sue GM if a bad driver runs over someone?

Suing a manufacturer when a criminal shots someone actually takes much of the heat off of the criminal action.

I lock my house when I am home to keep out the criminals. America should focus on keeping criminals away from society, and keeping people from becoming criminals.

If we get rid of all firearms in the world, I will still be locking my door.

Anonymous said...

The only suits that this would deal with are those that seek to impose liability on gun manufacturers for the crimes of gun users. It does not affect the liability of gun manufacturers for the crimes of gun manufacturers. In the process, we get a ban on cop killer, armor piercing bullets, and gun locks are now required for new guns. Less frivolous litigation and more gun safety. A good deal in my book.

RandomThoughts said...

I am woefully ignorant about this whole concept. I don't understand the rationale behind holding manufacturers or retailers culpable for our own decisions. Now I am obese and I love McDonalds but I don't hold them responsible for my weight problem; they didn't force me to eat their food. And I don't see how we can hold gun manufacturers responsible when someone uses their product illegally unless they make using their product illegally an easy option - like giving directions for converting guns to automatic.

Would someone please explain the logic behind this to me? I am sincere in wanting to know, not being sarcastic.

Thank you

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

I think that is exactly the point of the bill, to make sure that we can't hold gun manufacturers liable for someone else's criminality. My point all along has been that of course something else would need to be proven (i.e., encouragement or facilitation of illegal sales, marketing guns or bullets specifically for illegal purposes, etc.) in order to win a lawsuit; that's what all the existing mechanisms I mentioned are for. However, given what has been said here about the riders dealing with gun locks and cop-killer bullets (which I wasn't aware of), I'm willing to accept what I basically feel is an unnecessary, although not necessarily objectionable, limitation on suits against gun manufacturers in order to get those provisions.