Policy Analysis No. 400

Pistol Whipped: Baseless Lawsuits, Foolish Laws

Executive Summary

Although Congress and the majority of state legislatures have resisted enacting draconian gun control laws, the courts are the final bulwark in safeguarding our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Yet the courts of late have been the scene of unprecedented attacks on that right as gun control advocates have used the judiciary to make an end-run around the legislative process. Meritless litigation brought by government plaintiffs in multiple jurisdictions are just part of a scheme to force gun makers to adopt policies that legislatures have wisely rejected. Moreover, the suits are used by politicians to reward their allies—private attorneys, many of whom are major campaign contributors—with lucrative contingency fee contracts.

Meanwhile, many of the same politicians have exploited a few recent tragedies to promote their anti-gun agenda. But gun controls haven’t worked and more controls won’t help. In fact, many of the recommended regulations will make matters worse by stripping law-abiding citizens of their most effective means of self-defense. Violence in America is due not to the availability of guns but to social pathologies—illegitimacy, dysfunctional schools, and drug and alcohol abuse. Historically, more gun laws have gone hand in hand with an explosion of violent crime. Only during the past decade—with vigorous law enforcement, a booming economy, and an older population—have we seen dramatic reductions in violence, coupled with a record number of guns in circulation.

Before we compromise constitutional rights expressly recognized in the Second Amendment, we ought to be sure of three things: first, that we’ve identified the real problem; second, that we’ve pinpointed its cause; and, third, that our remedy is no more extensive than necessary to fix the problem. The spreading litigation against gun makers fails all three tests as do the latest gun control proposals. Guns do not increase violence; they reduce violence. Banning or regulat-ing firearms will not eliminate the underlying pathologies. And a less invasive remedy already exists: enforce existing laws.

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Robert A. Levy is senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.