Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Conversation To Be Had

When a car careens off the road and crashes into, I don’t know, a nunnery, because the driver was drunk, we do not blame the car manufacturer. We blame the driver for not operating the vehicle in a safe fashion. Unless of course there is technology available that would inhibit a drunk driver from even turning that vehicle on. Oh, wait, they did invent that. They have Car Breathalyzers.  But car manufacturers don’t install it on every car because they still believe in the “Social Contract”.

 The Social Contract means that in a civilized society there is an expectation that companies,  individuals or groups will behave responsibly with goods or services designed and manufactured for the masses.  Manufacturers or the courts don’t install breathalyzers in every single car on the road, but they do when an individual gets into trouble with the law for alcohol related charges. They hook that breathalyzer up right away in order to protect the public from the potential menace this troubled person might have with alcohol and driving. Hopefully this act will keep the drunk off the road and keep people safe.  They also launch huge Public Relations campaigns to raise public awareness about the real dangers of Drunk Driving in an effort to show the public that they do care about the safe use of their product. Even if the cynics say they are only doing it to protect their bottom line, which is likely true but that’s everyone’s rule, a.k.a.  C.Y.A.

If a car is having regular ignition problems and starts or dies suddenly on its own, through some electrical or software problem, and it is causing accidents on the roads or even deaths.  The auto manufacturer will launch a massive recall because it knows that public safety is the cornerstone of their business.  They will find a way to fix the problem and return it to service and maintain that public trust.

An automobile is a tonnage of killing power in the hands of ordinary citizens doing their best to be responsible with their personal killing machine.  The ordinary person wants to operate their vehicle safely so they take Driver’s Education classes, have field training on the use of their vehicle and are then tested by their States to receive permission to operate a vehicle. There are even different levels of classifications for drivers of certain vehicles that require even more classes, licensing or testing.

                If you fail any part of those classes, testing or basic skills, the State doesn’t even allow you to obtain a license.  You are prohibited by law from operating a vehicle and if you are caught without the proper licenses, you can face very stiff charges in the courts and a permanent mark goes on your record. And yet, with all that testing and State licensing, people still drive cars illegally. It’s a relatively small number of people in the grand scheme of things, but they are out there. This small number doesn’t believe in or understand the “Social Contract” to behave responsibly with our gas powered killing machines.

The manufacturer of the cars doesn’t control licensing but they encourage the State governments to have strong automobile related laws on the books to not only protect their own corporate image, but to protect the public; one hand washing the other as it were.  Manufacturers have a duty to the public as part of the Social Contract to make sure the products they make are operated safely and used appropriately. When an individual alters a car for felonious purposes, manufacturers are encouraged to come up with ways to keep criminals from using their products in illegal ways. Car alarms, anti-theft devices, Lo-jack, Remote ignition kills, pass codes, and so on and so on, were all developed because some criminal element was trying to use their product in a way in which it was not intended. The Auto industry, in keeping up with its end of the Social Contract developed ways to keep people and their possessions a little bit safer.

The car makers show some real responsibility for their products and understand that operating a vehicle, in highly congested cities or on winding country roads, can be dangerous and they develop ways to keep their buyers safe. Crash testing, air bags, seat belts, high beam head lights, blind spot warnings, anti-lock brakes, break away glass, all came from the Auto industries concern for their consumers and their reputations. Even if that consumer activism comes from an outside source like Underwriter’s Laboratory or other safety organization, the auto industry must respond to it. 

If an auto manufacturer denies any issue with a vehicle after testing, or independent testing, or are confronted with overwhelming evidence that their product in in breach of the Social Contract, they can be sued and possibly risk losing the public trust and ultimately going out of business. (I know that seems like a far-fetched idea, but it’s possible under the right circumstances.) Public trust is just about everything with a major corporation. If a company doesn’t have the public trust to maintain or ensure the safe use of their product they risk financial ruin.

When Target was hit with that huge cyber hack and tons of personal information about its consumers was stolen, the backlash against Target was momentous.  Target’s honchos and CEO’s realized they had failed the public and would do anything they could to restore their good name. They invested in tighter security and access to records, they invested millions of dollars into restoring the trust they need to survive in the marketplace.  It was simply the right thing to do, for their customers and their own bottom line.

The Chicago Tylenol murders were a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982. The victims had all taken Tylenol-branded acetaminophen capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide. James William Lewis was convicted of extortion for sending a letter taking credit for the deaths and demanding $1 million to stop them. The incidents led to reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter substances and to federal anti-tampering laws.

So from the acts of a madman, a company fundamentally changed how they packaged medical supplies and how the law should react to such tampering. A company felt the pressure of a very concerned populace and took appropriate action with their product to maintain their Social Contract.

So, I guess my point is, after a long and winding road of case building, why don’t we as the public hold the gun manufacturer’s responsible for the use of their products in the same way we hold other companies responsible for the use of theirs? Do gun manufacturers have such a hold on the hearts of the public that they do not feel the need to uphold their end of the Social Contract by finding safe ways for their products to be on the marketplace? How about bio-metrics on guns so they won’t fire unless the registered and formally licensed owner is in operation of the weapon? How about a fingerprint scan on gun locks? How about smart targeting systems? How about smart bullets? What about the use of more non-lethal ammunition availability?   Why can’t we hold the gun manufacturer responsible the same way the public would hold Ford, or Costco or Apple for a faulty or illegal use of their products?

I’ll tell you why. Because, “In 2005, when Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, granting the gun industry immunity in state and federal court from civil liability in most negligence and products liability actions, the National Rifle Assn. called passage "vitally important" and fought hard for it. Although there are exceptions in the law, it has been broadly interpreted to preclude most negligence lawsuits. The result is that — unlike the makers of chain saws, knives, automobiles, drugs, alcohol or even cigarettes — gun manufacturers and sellers have a lesser obligation to act with reasonable care for public safety.” [1]

That’s right, gun manufacturers can operate without having to worry about the Social Contract most other companies have to, and even want to, abide by. So they don’t care how many of their products are used, legally or illegally. They can just keep churning weapons out and hide behind their Congressionally awarded immunity from any repercussions for the use of their products. Gun makers have no motivation to make their products any safer. They face no consequences from the public or the government.   

No wonder it’s madness out there. No wonder no one can stand up and say, “Enough is enough!” All I want is responsible gun ownership and responsible corporations holding up their end of the Social Contract. I don’t want your guns. I want there to be repercussions for the firearms industry and any company that does business with them. Maybe then, we might be able to change the culture of gun violence that plagues us. If there was more public pressure to change the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, we might not have had the tragedy of live TV murder, or school shootings, or theater shootings, or train shootings, or street shootings or the poor guy who probably got shot right while you were reading this.

It’s not about getting bogged down in blame, liberals or conservative, white or black, it’s about the responsibility a company has to its consumers and their part in upholding the Social Contract. That’s where focus should be. That’s where any real change has to take place.

                It's a conversation worth having I think.


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