Lawyers Guns and
"Just Put Down That Law Suit, Pardner, and No One Gets Hurt."
Greg Palast, July 30, 2005
(Posted here by Wes Penre, July 31, 2005)
Originally published in The Guardian (London)
YORK - There are 200 million guns in civilian hands in the United
States. That works out at 200 per lawyer. Wade through the foaming
websites of the anti-Semites, weekend militiamen and Republicans, and it
becomes clear that many among America's well-armed citizenry have
performed the same calculation. Because if there is any hope of the
ceasefire that they fear, it will come out of the barrel of a lawsuit.
And that is why a shoot-to-kill coalition in the Senate, led by Wild
Bill Frist (R-Tenn) and his simpering sidekick, Scary Harry Reid (D-Nev),
voted yesterday to grant immunity from law suits to gun makers.
First, the score. Gunshot deaths in the US are way down - to only 88 a
day. Around 87,000 lucky Americans were treated for bullet wounds last
year; 32,436 unlucky ones died, including a dozen policemen by their own
For Americans, America remains more deadly than Iraq.
In one typical case, a young man, Steven Fox, described feeling pieces
of his brain fly from his skull after a mugger shot him. He is
But, hey, that's business for you. And what a business it is. Guns, ammo
and accessories are a $6 billion-a-year honey pot for several
corporations: Glock, Smith & Wesson, Colt and too many others.
But, the gun-o-philiacs say, what does po' widdle Smith & Wesson have to
do with a mugger who uses its gun in an unsocial manner?
This cop-out drives Elisa Barnes crazy. Barnes is the lawyer who brought
the groundbreaking lawsuit against handgun manufacturers which, for the
first time, were found negligent in abetting a criminal.
It's lawyers like Barnes -- and victims like Fox -- that the Senate went
Barnes thought it was just too convenient for gun makers to blame the
criminal alone. Through investigation and statistical analysis she
concluded that sales to criminals are a much-valued - if unpublicized -
market segment sought out and provisioned by these upstanding
Her calculations are compelling. Gun companies dumped several million
weapons into outlets in states with few curbs on purchases,
super-saturating the legal market so that excess would flow up the "Iron
Pipeline" to meet black market demand in New York and other big cities.
Like the company that sells cigarette rolling papers in quantities far
outstripping sales of legal tobacco, gun manufacturers have a
nod-and-wink understanding of where their products end up. Their market
models cannot account for half the gun sales in loose-law states such as
Nor can industry executives fail to have noticed the 800,000 requests to
them from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency to trace guns
recovered from crime scenes.
The Fox case jury found a dozen gun makers guilty of negligent
distribution. The shooter's gun was never found. Unable to determine
which company made the gun that fired the bullet into Fox's head, the
jury ordered all the makers of .25 caliber weapons in the case to pony
up $5 million for Fox's care and pain.
Fox's victory burst the dam. Several hundred lawyers - including the
Costanza group, the combine of firms that mangled the tobacco industry -
filed suits to make sure the gun industry feels our pain. New Orleans
was the first of thirty cities in court demanding that gun purveyors pay
the cost of gathering the wounded off the streets, and the cost of
arming the municipal police force in self-defense. The legal profession
might have finally accomplished what a cowering Congress dare not
consider: shutting down firearms sales at source.
The NAACP weighed in with a massive class-action suit on behalf of
thousands of the wounded and dead, based on yet another theory: product
liability. I spoke to one of their counsel, Mike Hausfeld, just after he
returned from beating Hitler in a US courtroom.
Fifty years after WWII, Hausfeld's firm brought a suit against
Mercedes-Benz, Siemens, BASF and others who used slave labor from
concentration and prison camps under the Nazi regime. The defendants
agreed to create a $1.2 billion compensation fund.
Hausfeld concedes the companies were acting under orders of the Reich,
but points out: "Contemporary industrial empires were made from those
profits. In 1938 Henry Ford received a medal from the Führer, and his
German plants continued to provide Ford income through 1942. Those
profits belong to the victims."
Hitler's manufacturers finally coughed up their blood money when the
defense, "We were only taking orders," failed to impress US judges.
Glock's profits belong too its victims as well. But as soon as our
President signs the new immunity law, "We were only taking orders" (for
more guns) will be a Bush-blessed defense.
Republican Majority Leader Frist makes a big deal about being a doctor.
He must believe the Hippocratic Oath changed from, "First, do no harm,"
to "Shoot first, then run for President."
It's not nice to say, but there's only one way to stop Doctor Death. In
2008, I hope to see the headline, "Senator Frist Slain in a Hail of
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best
Democracy Money Can Buy. Subscribe to his commentaries at