Where is corporate responsibility on guns?Published 9:50am Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom
This but that.
I feel this way, but I believe that way.
These are the conflicts I have and many Americans have about gun control in the wake of school shootings, and perhaps never more severely after 20 children were shot and killed Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
I favor the Second Amendment. I especially like the sport of hunting. I don’t hunt myself, but I have fired hunting rifles and handguns at firing ranges and in the vast outdoors of the American West. In the military, I became an expert marksman with the M-16A1 and M-16A2 semi-automatic rifles. But the main reason I call myself a Second Amendment supporter is that hunters are among the biggest advocates of conserving habitat for wildlife. I dearly like the outdoors and treasured landscapes.
The same U.S. Constitution that protects my right as a journalist to free press and free speech also protects people’s right to bear arms. Here is what the Second Amendment says:
“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
After what happened in Connecticut, social media sites exploded with talk about gun control and gun rights and so on.
There is no doubt the talk is natural. After all, this is a country of liberated people who will share their views and opinions.
But while the talk is mainly about laws, I wonder about a different subject: corporate responsibly.
When other industries are besieged with public outcry about their product, they take steps. It’s why movies and video games have ratings systems. It’s why automakers have recalls. It’s why the NFL is so concerned about concussions or why MLB finally took action on steroids. Companies take steps before the government does.
A prime example is the push to reduce auto fatalities caused by drunken drivers. The drive to make a change was big in America starting in the late 1970s and continued into the 1990s. Today, people take for granted these regulations as necessary, but at one time, it was a major debate.
And how did the companies that produce alcoholic beverages react? They asked drinkers to consume less of it. That’s right, they asked their customers to purchase less of their product.
It goes against the sensibilities of profit-making. But the truth is, more profit can be made in the long run by being a responsible corporate citizen.
The beer and liquor companies pushed designated drivers and found ways to make consumption of their product safe with the hopes that fewer people would die as a result. It could be stated very easily that alcohol didn’t kill people, people who make poor choices killed people. But the companies didn’t deny their product played a role.
Today, deaths from drinking and driving are way down, and the liquor companies didn’t end up vilified. What’s more, blame for drinking and driving nowadays squarely falls on the drivers. For a country with an age-old history of debating the scourge of intoxicating beverages, we haven’t had that sort of national conversation for decades, all thanks to companies acting responsibly.
Smart public relations, I’d say.
When Smith & Wesson tried to take steps in 2000 to do more with locks and control who ends up with their product, gun owners and lobby organizations boycotted their product and slammed the manufacturer so much that the company lost value and had to be sold.
I just don’t understand what harm would it do if, for instance, gun companies did more to crack down on gun trafficking. Most gun dealers are honest, law-abiding citizens, but there are corrupt ones who make extra dough by enabling guns to get in the hands of the wrong people.
Why not close the loophole for gun shows? The loophole is that background checks that normally happen in stores do not happen at gun shows. Who doesn’t think gun purchasers need background checks every time?
Those are two examples. I don’t know all answers to this issue. I lack solutions, no doubt. I do know that I would be livid if those were my kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I do know that no one is talking about taking away all guns. That’s never going to happen. The Second Amendment does say “well-regulated,” and I would bet that it would be smart for gun companies to “self-regulate” in light of the circumstances.
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.