“Sorry, Not My Table”

This article in today’s Times got me a little riled up. Go ahead and read it, I’ll be here when you get back.

We are often told, by free-market and small-government advocates, that industry should be left to regulate itself, that responsible business leaders will by and large act appropriately. And that does happen – businesses develop codes of conduct and other self-regulatory mechanisms, mostly to avoid the government stepping in and imposing restrictions and codes (or to forestall more regulation than the government may have already imposed).

But what if an industry knows, to a very high degree of confidence, that it is unlikely to face government intervention no matter what? Where is the incentive to be responsible then? The arrogance of gun manufacturers is unchecked – with no credible threat of seeing laws to limit sales or to require them to assist law enforcement, there is nothing to prevent them from maximizing profits at any public cost. And any that do try to take a more publicly responsive and responsible tack are blackballed and pressured to reverse course.

It is possible to disagree about the causes of and appropriate responses to gun violence, just as it is possible to disagree about the causes of and appropriate responses to childhood obesity or global climate change. But in those areas, industry participants have shown willingness to self-regulate, at least in part, in relevant areas (such as not marketing sugary foods to kids, energy efficiency programs, and so on). The necessity and efficacy of such efforts is always subject to debate and discussion, but at least there is a discussion. In contrast, gun manufacturers simply wash their hands of the whole thing, denying any responsibility or even connection to the question of gun violence, and they do it with impunity because they know that Congress will never dare defy them with laws, or if such laws ever do pass, that the Supreme Court will negate them.

I don’t usually buy into the stereotypical image of “corporate fat cats” chortling over their martinis down at the Club as they regale one another with stories of buying a Senator or three and jamming their agenda right into the face of the commoners, but it’s hard to read the testimony of these gun company CEO’s and not see it.

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