Let the market fix the problem of gun violence

Another school shooting, another unproductive dialog about gun violence begins.

We’ve seen this story over and over.

Two entrenched sides, anger hurled back and forth, and no progress.

And here we sit, in America, fearing that our children will be shot in their own schools.

The shooting last week in Florida took place in the city rated the most safe in the state.

It can, and will, happen anywhere.

Something has to be done.

Parents wait for news after a reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

For the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby, it’s all or nothing. In Trump’s America, adherents to the credo of unrestricted gun ownership regardless of the outcome are more emboldened than ever. Take a look at the foolish videos the NRA has put out lately — stoking fears of race wars, smashing television sets with sledgehammers. The gun lobby is more prepared for conflict than they’ve ever been.

So, it appears we won’t see any further restrictions on firearms, no matter how many children are gunned down in our schools.

At the same time, our culture has created a template for troubled young people that involves guns. Students in Augusta and South Portland were arrested last week in two separate incidents after making gun violence threats. Our new reality is that there are mentally disturbed people who will continue to seek guns to commit inexplicable acts of violence.This is a reality made even more troubling by the fact that the Trump administration recently reversed restrictions preventing the sale of firearms to people with mental illness.

So if gun rights can’t be restricted, and we know troubled people will continue to go down this awful road, what do we do?

There’s only one solution: let the market fix the problem.


Don’t pass laws restricting gun ownership.

Pass laws assigning liability to anyone who puts a gun in the hands of someone who shoots people with it.

Gun shops, private sellers, and gun manufacturers need to be told, “You can sell all the guns you want. But if your gun kills someone, you’re responsible for it.”

Gun sellers will plead, “How can we know if someone is going to shoot up a school?”

And our response should be, “Good question. But for your own sake, you better figure it out.”

If the gun lobby is going to continue to block everyone else’s solutions, it’s time to put the ball in their court.

Stop the problem, or face the consequences.

This would not be an infringement of the Second Amendment. It does not restrict ownership of firearms. It simply places responsibility where it belongs. If you want to traffic firearms, you’re going to be liable if those guns hurt people.

If you don’t want the liability, don’t sell the guns. Plain and simple.

Imagine the impact this would have on the sale of high-capacity magazines, assault rifles, and other firearms used in mass shootings. Gun dealers would finally have to make an honest assessment of the risk these weapons pose to society, and the liability they would face by selling them.

As it stands now, gun dealers are only motivated to sell more guns. Change the scope of responsibility, and their interests would rapidly align with the common good.

Manufacturers of weapons commonly used in these mass shootings would suddenly have to answer the question everyone else in society now asks — is it really worth the risk?

Let’s leave it to them to make that decision. If they choose to continue to proliferate these weapons, they can assume responsibility for the outcome.

Those who use the literal interpretation of the Second Amendment as justification for unchecked firearm ownership must also be familiar with the libertarian notion of personal responsibility. Our current system creates a false shield for those whose personal habits cause damage to others. In fact, there are laws on the books now that explicitly shield gun manufacturers from liability.

A just society that is more closely aligned with original constitutional intent would allow citizens to do whatever they fancy, but would bring the weight of justice down on those whose actions infringe on the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of their fellow citizens.

If mass-murder in a high school doesn’t fit that criteria, I don’t know what does.

As a society, we could make the decision to ban all firearms, as other nations have. Instead, we have decided as a society to assume the risk of these shootings in order to preserve the right of gun ownership.

It’s time to shift that risk away from those who do not participate in the firearms trade, and to put it justly on those who do participate.

If you want to own, sell, lend, or manufacture firearms, you can be responsible for the violence that results.

If gun ownership is so critical to the American way of life, the gun lobby should proudly accept this responsibility.


Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.