According to The Mass Shooting Tracker, a project of Guns Are Cool, there have been 204 mass shooting events in the United States so far in 2015.
- 18 mass shootings in April;
- 39 in May;
- and 41 in June.
July has been a particularly busy month for those seeking the title of “NRA Poster Boy”: 34 mass shootings so far–and the month isn’t over yet.
So what should the surviving victims of these rampages do to seek redress?
And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?
First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.
Politicians–-with rare exceptions–-have only two goals:
- Get elected to office, and
- Stay in office.
And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to risk its wrath.
Second, don’t expect the mental health profession to prevent such future tragedies.
There is simply no definitive way to predict who is likely to commit mass murder.
And even if such a method were developed, it would likely be ruled unconstitutional. A person can’t be jailed or hospitalized for fear of what he might do.
Third, those who survived these rampages–-and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t–-should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.
There is sound, legal precedent for this.
For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
- The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.
- Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
- Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
- From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
- In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
- Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
- The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
- In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs. In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
- The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices. They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.
The parallels with the NRA are obvious:
- For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” With guns.
- The NRA has steadfastly defended the right to own Teflon-coated “cop killer” bullets,” whose only purpose is to penetrate bullet-resistant vests worn by law enforcement officers.
- The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals, terrorists and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
- The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.
- The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
- The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.
- The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
- The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program–thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.
- Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.
The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence–and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it. Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.
As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses. And the NRA will rejoice with each one.
But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.
And then the NRA–-like the tobacco industry–-will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.
Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of slaughters that could have been prevented.