FOR A FEW brief moments the National Rifle Association thought it had it all. Then the voters of Washington, D.C., dealt it a terrible blow. They voted to make the manufacturers and gun dealers liable for any accidents and deaths caused by the weapons they made and sold.
The action produced wails of anguish from the NRA headquarters to the halls of Congress which the National Rifle Association now owns. I found an NRA lobbyist shredding his target vest in front of a congressman's office. "Has anyone ever perpetrated such a foul deed on the gun lovers of America?" he cried.
"The District voters have done you wrong," I said, handing him a Kleenex. "Congress controls this town with its purse strings. You must persuade the U.S. legislature to declare all those who voted for the measure to be unconstitutional."
He gave me a fistful of money, mistaking me for the chairman of a committee, and said, "They said that if Pinto automobiles killed people the manufacturer must be held responsible, and they now say that if a drug is tainted with arsenic, you can sue the company who made the pills.
"But guns are different. If they kill that means they are doing what they are supposed to do. It's only when the bullet misses its target that the gun can be considered defective. If you bought a weapon to blow away your Aunt Frieda and succeeded, where are the damages?"
It was a good point. "The only time to sue," I said, "is if the gun does not fulfill its promise.
"Suppose I go and stick up a bank, which is unlikely since banks don't seem to have any money any more. I point my gun at the teller and she isn't frightened. Could I complain to the manufacturer that he didn't put enough fear at the end of the barrel?"
He responded, "That's how ridiculous the entire anti-gun business is getting. Where is the liability for the maker once the gun is in the hands of an owner? Let us say that you shoot your neighbor's dog -- accidentally or on purpose. How can the dog owner claim that the gun dealer is responsible when he was miles away from the trigger finger?"
The lobbyist was stacking piles of money on the floor of the hall.
"What are you doing?"
"Every time the voters go crazy we come up here and buy tables for political fund raisers congressmen are holding. We want to make damn sure our side is going to be heard, and in Washington money speaks so much more elegantly than words."
"What can the average citizen like me do to show the gun manufacturers and dealers I'm on their side?"
"Write to your congressman. Tell him he either gets the citizens ++ of Washington, D.C., to see the light, or they'll lose their vote. We're not worried about the District itself -- we're worried about the precedent. If the gun liability prevails, no gun owner will be safe from a lawsuit."
"I'll do it," I declared. "Not because I'm on the side of the gun dealers, but because it's right."
He stopped shredding his gun jacket. "Bless you. You're the next best thing to a good congressman -- you're not afraid to shoot from the hip."