Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Full-Auto Airguns and the Law

Ahhh, gun control- a tyrannical government’s best friend. Right now in the US, firearms are well regulated. To buy a firearm you must pass a background check and in some cases you must wait a period to take possession. Also, if you want to buy a gun online or from out of state, then you must arrange the transfer of that gun through a Federal Firearms License holder. States have different rules about where and how you can carry/transport your firearm; some even require special permits to conceal a firearm for protection. Also, you can’t take guns across state lines without some red tape. Some guns are essentially banned by heavy regulations… of course they are the most fun guns to own; California prohibits .50 caliber rifles. Machine guns are strictly controlled across the country- it takes a great deal of work and money to legally own one, so they are simply outside the reach of the normal gun enthusiast. Never mind gun control only troubles law-abiding persons, leaving criminals with no respect for the law in the first place to arm themselves as they see fit… no, never mind that fact- that’s another discussion; right now I think I’ll have a conversation with myself about airguns.

So what about airguns? Air rifles? BB guns? Pellet guns? Are they controlled?
Joy be to us in the airgun community- all airguns are THANKFULLY still unregulated in the US; no background check, no need to use a special license holder for transfers, and no rules about carrying or transporting across state lines. You can buy one online, and have it shipped to your doorstep from across the country without having a thing to do with any government. Twenty years ago, a federal law was passed which PREVENTS state regulation of airguns; states can restrict airgun sales to minors, but that’s all. So essentially any gun which fires a projectile using compressed air is safe from state regulation (any time soon that is).

What about a fully automatic airgun?
No regulations- It uses compressed air to launch the projectile, so it is completely legal to own.

What about .22 caliber? Or .50 caliber?
No regulations- So long as the .22 or .50 caliber projectile is being shot out by compressed air and not gunpowder, then the airgun is safe from regulation.

Okay… how about a fully automatic .50 caliber airgun?
Ohhh good one- I like the way you think. Remember- no gunpowder, not regulated. Even a fully automatic .50 caliber airgun is completely legal. States can prohibit minors from buying them, but anyone is free to make and sell pneumatic machineguns of any caliber.

SWEET! But if such an air machinegun is legal, why isn’t anyone manufacturing and selling them on a large scale?
Here is the interesting twist to the situation; fully automatic airguns are regulated by the legal system.

Wait… they are legal but regulated by the legal system?
Precisely! The current trend in America now is to sue manufacturers of products in the event of an accident when using that product. Sure a product can be in high demand, sure a product can be readily manufactured, and sure it is ‘technically’ legal to sell, but companies are scared to make certain products. They are scared a customer will hurt himself or someone else when using the product, and then that irresponsible person will blame the product. It is not an airgun’s fault if someone shoots their neighbor or catches a ricochet in the eye; someone made an error in judgment or lacked sensible gun usage. It’s their own fault, but somehow the manufacturer gets blamed for an injury.

So why do people blame the product manufacturers?
Unfortunately, America has a legal system which enables and almost encourages this behavior. If I sue a company claiming their product hurt me- there are usually only 3 outcomes: I can win the lawsuit, they could settle with me out of court to shut me up, or I could loose the lawsuit… basically I could get money, or I could not get money. Either way I have nothing to loose. If the company were found innocent of wrong doing, there is really no punishment for my inaccurately accusing them, so why NOT sue? Besides, for some people it’s a lot easier to say ‘It’s YOUR fault’ than it is to say ‘I made a mistake’… sadly that is the way some people get by.

Can companies protect themselves?
A company can get insurance to protect themselves against these lawsuits. Insurance such as this could pay legal expenses or settling costs should someone get hurt and blame the product. But from an insurance provider standpoint, all products have a calculated degree of risk- a probability that someone will get hurt and sue. If a certain product’s risk is too high, then the insurer either cannot insure that product or the premiums are not affordable for the manufacturer.

So let’s examine a product like the GSMG in a hypothetical situation. You own AIR Incorporated. You make airguns. You have thousands of customers sending you letters to make a fully automatic airgun, and all of these customers say they will pay $1,000 for it. You have your engineers design one killer full-auto airgun. You have vendors agree to sell it. But wait, you can’t find an insurance company to insure the airgun and protect you from lawsuits. Were someone dumb enough to look down the barrel while firing, and were that person irresponsible enough to blame AIR Incorporated for their injury, then AIR could be slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Of course your airgun would not be to blame- this idiot simply shot himself in the face, but that decision of blame would be put in the jurors’ hands… maybe they wouldn’t see it so simply. So would you even make the airgun in the first place when millions of dollars are at stake? No- probably not.

Technically, any airgun you can imagine is legal to make and sell in the US, but in actuality airguns are a regulated commodity; they are restricted by people’s inclination to blame anyone but themselves and a legal system which perpetuates the blame game. I could go on about people’s unwillingness to be responsible for their own actions and gun control in general, but I’ll stop before I ramble; plus the thought is bumming me out.

Hey thanks for reading. Be sure to check out updates to the GMG here.