With the Senate’s vote earlier this week to regulate tobacco, a giant step
has been made towards better regulating tobacco for health and safety standards.
If as anticipated the House approves the updated version and President Obama signs it, we will all have
much to celebrate as countless lives and healthcare dollars will be saved.
While this is clearly good news, it also serves to shine a spotlight on
another deadly product which is crying out for regulation: guns. As surprising
as it might be, other than tobacco, firearms are the only consumer product not
regulated for health and safety by a federal agency.
Teddy bears, radios, and hairbrushes, which combined kill less than 100
Americans each year, are all regulated for safety. Guns, on the other
hand, kill 30,000 and injure another 70,000 Americans annually but are not
In 1972, pro-gun special interest groups used their powerful lobbying
influence to achieve an exemption from government regulation for firearms. This
precedent continues despite the fact that guns are among the most deadly
consumer products made.
Consumer product safety standards save lives.
For example, improved safety designs in the packaging of over the counter drugs,
such as pain relievers, have reduced the number of deaths from child poisonings.
The automobile industry is another good example of where consumer protection
laws have been successful in saving lives.
Changes in the design of cars and trucks–airbags, stronger frame
construction, improved seat belts–have resulted in a decline of motor
vehicle-related deaths and injuries over the last several decades. Improvements
in the design, manufacture, and sale of guns would have a similar positive
impact by reducing the number of firearm-related deaths and injuries in the
During the recent recession, we have seen the devastating impact of
industries, like banks, which in the past have professed that self-regulation is
Now that tens of thousands of Americans have lost their life-savings and
jobs, many are no longer buying the self-regulation argument. Gun manufacturers
have learned nothing from the recent chain of events in our country. They
continue to: scoff at any attempt to reign in the deadly effects of their
products; undermine all efforts to strengthen our nation’s gun laws; and refuse
to protect the consumers who use their products. It’s time for a red flag to go
up on this reckless industry.
In 1999, a bill was introduced by Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and
Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ). Although it was unable to gain traction thanks
to the gun lobby, the bill would have given the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms the power to:
- Develop safety standards for firearms and related products;
- Restrict weapons that pose unreasonable risks of deaths and injury;
- Promote research and investigation into the causes and prevention of
gun-related death and injury; and
- Assist consumer in evaluating product safety.
As we have seen, like the banks, the gun industry wants one thing and one
thing only: money. The more money they make, the happier and fatter they get,
regardless of the consequences to the broader community.
Congress and the Obama administration need to find their courage and apply
the same chutzpah in their efforts to reign in the deadly gun industry as they
did recently with the banking industry.
Ten years have passed since the Kennedy-Torricelli Consumer Protection bill,
perhaps someone needs to brush the dust off of it and give it new life so that
more lives can be saved from guns.