Don't Tread on Me—Or I'll Sue

By Michael Strickland
Los Angeles Times
November 13, 1999

My optometrist gave me the wrong prescription for my new glasses, so I'm going to sue Bazzato. That's the maker of the eyeglass frames. It's their fault, right? In fact, while I'm at it, I should file a lawsuit against Ford over that scratch in my car's paint that appeared last time I went to the car wash. They're definitely liable. Oh, and that money I lost in Vegas last summer? The casino's fault.

If you're chuckling about now, let me ask you this: does it sound any less irresponsible to sue a gun maker because two crazed teenagers went on a shooting rampage? Or to blame a tobacco company for the death of a loved one who made the choice to inhale smoke into his lungs for forty years? Every time I hear of such lawsuits, I shake my head in disbelief. Yet in many courtrooms in America, millions of tax dollars are being spent arguing cases that would be thrown out in a New York minute if Common Sense were the Law of the Land.

In November of last year, the family of a teenager killed by another boy with a Beretta sued the gun manufacturer for "negligence." Without knowing the facts of the case, I would agree that negligence caused the kid's death. However, I would say it was the boy who did the killing, as well as the parents who weren't around, who were negligent. Fortunately, the jury in that case had some common sense and dismissed the suit.

Dennis Hennigan, of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, can't be accused of having common sense, however. Hennigan recently called gun manufacturers "...a very secretive industry that markets a very lethal product." Well, isn't that the point? If I were purchasing a handgun for home protection, I wouldn't want the "non-lethal" model.

And it was reported in today's news that impending lawsuits have forced 144-year-old gun maker Colt Manufacturing to stop selling handguns to consumers. The company's post-Civil War slogan was once "Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal." If you favor these new lawsuits, however, then you'll agree that men who used Colt firearms to commit violence were not free; Colt made them do it, and should therefore be punished.

Such misplaced blame seems outrageous; but in the wake of successful tobacco lawsuits, it's not hard to see how such litigation can find support. Somewhere along the way, courts—and by extension the Americans who served on the juries—have forgotten about the meaning of accountability and personal responsibility. These days, murderers no longer act alone; they share the blame with the parents who abused them, the drug dealer who doped them up, and the gun manufacturer who pulled the trigger. But hey, why stop there? Blame Hanes for making the killer's underwear too tight, Right Guard for failing to control his body odor and McDonald's for selling him the Big Mac that pushed him over the edge.

I used to smoke cigarettes. I did not need a government study or a press release from the tobacco company to tell me that a) drawing smoke into my lungs hundreds of times a day was hazardous to my health; and b) every time I got a "nicotine fit," it meant I was addicted and needed my "fix." If I come down with lung cancer, I'll kick myself, I'll curse my own stupidity, I'll wish I had never smoked that first cigarette. And I'll be blaming the right person. It was my own free will that made me smoke.

Similarly, if a loved one were gunned down tomorrow by a crazed lunatic, I would blame the criminal, I would push strenuously for his death sentence, I might even be tempted to take the law into my own hands. But how on Earth could I make the mental leap to blame the manufacturer of the legal weapon that the criminal used illegally? I'm sure that gun makers have also built countless guns that have saved lives—but you rarely hear about those cases.

As a nation, we are quickly abandoning responsibility for our actions. Unlike the vulnerable child who grows up and learns to fend for itself, Americans are learning not to fend for themselves. If we injure ourselves, it's not our fault; if someone else hurts us, it's not their fault. The legal precedent being set by this spate of lawsuits is that no one is accountable for his or her actions; it's Big Government and Corporate America's job to protect everyone from everything.

Our national motto used to be "Don't tread on me." It should be updated for the twenty-first century to read "Don't tread on me—or I'll sue the maker of your shoes."

Selected reader response:

"Michael Strickland may be correct that this is a litigious, and often unjustifiably so, society. However, to use this as a defense of the gun manufacturers is absurd. He totally misses the point that there can be no justification for manufacturing and selling within the United States, either automatic or semiautomatic weapons. Why is it necessary for these manufacturers to arm our citizenry for internal warfare? Their arguments that the guns are necessary for 'hunting' are ludicrous.

Even I, who am loath to sue unjustifiably, would be tempted to sue the manufacturers if I, or any of my family, were to be harmed by such weapons.

I suggest that Strickland use his logic to argue against unjustified lawsuits and not use it to protect an industry that has demonstrated its complete lack of concern for our quality of life by coming up with ridiculous rationalizations every time one of their military-appropriate weapons is misused."

Mar Vista


"I'm sure Strickland's article must echo the thoughts and feelings of the vast majority of people in this country who wonder whatever happened to our innate common sense! Instead of accepting responsibility for our own actions, we rush to find a scapegoat to blame for our problems and misfortune.

I applaud Strickland for articulating so well the same views I hold."

Los Angeles




©2003 Michael Strickland

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