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Gun industry doesn't deserve legal shield


A week before Christmas, a 20-year-old man was shot to death on the front lawn of our neighbor's house right outside of our suburban cul-de-sac. It was one of those senseless killings that seem to have become all too common in today's society: A group of young people gather for a party, an argument ensues, a gun is drawn and a young man's life is cut short in an instant.

An 18-year-old male was arrested a few days later and was being held on first-degree murder charges in addition to unrelated warrants for assault, domestic violence, violation of a restraining order and contempt of court in two Colorado counties.

Two weeks after that incident, 24-year-old Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was gunned down as he sat in a Hummer limousine with friends in the early hours of New Year's Day. More than a dozen bullets were fired into the Hummer shortly after an argument occurred outside a nightclub near downtown Denver.

Police sources have said that three gang members were being sought in connection with Mr. Williams' death. One 23-year-old male had been arrested on a parole violation and was questioned about the shooting.

The latter shooting took place about four blocks from my prior residence before moving out of Denver about six years ago and into a safer suburban neighborhood—about two miles from Columbine High School, home of the worst school shooting in our nation's history.

My point is not to be flippant, but I don't think there is any truly safe place to raise children anymore. And part of the reason for that is the pervasiveness of guns among young people in this country and this barbaric attitude among some that taking another person's life is somehow the ultimate way to get in the last word.

While the number of gun-related killings among young people between the ages of 15-29 in the United States has remained relatively stable over the last few years, there still were 6,190 killed in 2004 and an additional 28,641 injured in gun assaults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC doesn't say how many of those homicides and assaults were committed by people of the same age group, but a 2006 report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows that 51% of the homicide victims killed by juvenile offenders from 1992 through 2002 were between the ages of 13-24. And a firearm was used in 74% of the cases.

Times have certainly changed, and a host of factors from family values to violent video games play a part in the problem. But the recent incidents that hit so close to home have me thinking about what could have been if President Bush had not signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005 that basically gave the gun industry immunity from liability suits stemming from shooting deaths and injuries.

I've never been a big fan of such litigation—whether it's tobacco, Big Macs or guns—believing that we should take personal responsibility for our actions and not blame others.

But holding some in the gun industry accountable for distribution practices that put guns into criminals' hands—including young criminals—or for shoddy business practices that do not keep track of lost or stolen firearm inventory—as some of the lawsuits from a few years ago alleged—is a bit more palatable to me now.

Guns certainly don't kill people; people kill people and we need to do more to prevent those young people who have the capacity to kill from accessing guns so easily.

While lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers in and of themselves will not make guns safer, they do tend to force businesses to change their practices and to follow rules more closely.

Whether they would ultimately result in fewer murders among our young people is debatable, but Congress made sure we will never know.