Friday, March 02, 2018

Consumer protection? What consumer protection? We don’t need no stinkin’ consumer protection

There are recalls all the time. Airbags that explode on no-contact. Listeria-drenched cantaloupe. Moldy UGG comforters. (Ugh!)

Although I’ve returned a number of items that didn’t work as advertised or just plain fell apart way before their time, I’ve never actually participated in a product recall. (Funny, when I first heard about cars being recalled, I thought they were all being recalled to Detroit. I loved the image of hundreds of thousands of vehicles converging on the Ford River Rouge plant or wherever they were heading to, and was a bit disappointed to learn that the recalled cars just went back to the dealership. Yawn!)

Although I haven’t done so in years, taking a page from my Aunt Margaret’s book, I was once quite a complaint letter writer. I never wrote to the Dromedary Date company – one of the Peg letters I recall. She set out to bake her famous Date Nut Bread, and something gang agley with her dates. So she wrote a letter and, in return, got a load of dates.

Me? I once wrote to Cracker Jacks to complain about the lack of nuts, and my prize was a carton full of Cracker Jacks boxes. I can’t remember if they had much by way of peanuts – probably not: that’s been a problem for decades, one I still experience a couple of times a season at Fenway Park. Another time, I wrote to the Tootsie Roll folks to express my annoyance at buying a bag of Tootsie Pops that were pretty much devoid of Tootsie. Again, my reward was a few bags of Tootsie Pops.

Somewhere along the line, consumer goods companies stopped sending bags and boxes, and started sending coupons. And that was no fun. Not worth writing a letter over, even though the value was pretty much equivalent to that of the bag or box.

Anyway, while I haven’t had to participate in product recalls, I’m glad that they occur.

Who wants to take sick from a germy cantaloupe, and hop into bed only to find that your UGG comforter is moldy?

I’m delighted that there’s someone out there protecting consumers.

But there’s apparently one product category that is recall-resistant.

And that’s defective guns.

As far as I’m concerned, most guns in civilian hands are defective, but if you want handgun in your bedside table, if you want to hunt Daffy and Bambi, or if you just like heading to the gun range for a bit of shoot ‘em up, have at it. I don’t want a gun. I don’t want to be around guns. But I’m fine with gun ownership (with the exception of automatics and semi-automatics). And tend to not have a holster full of sympathy when a gun owner shoots himself in the foot.

That said, I don’t like the idea of guns that fire away even when no one’s got their finger on the trigger, or when the safety’s on. As happened with a gun called the Taurus, which:

….sold almost a million handguns that can potentially fire without anyone pulling the trigger. The government won’t fixan the problem. The NRA is silent. (Source: Bloomberg)

One of those who ended up with a bad Taurus was Bud Brown, a retired cop and firearm’s instructor – and a responsible gun owner. His 28 year old son Jarred, well trained in the ways of firearms, borrowed the Taurus. Bud heard the gun go off, and the next thing he knew, he was by the side of his boy, who was bleeding to death, a 45-caliber slug having course through he femoral artery.

When Bud got out there, the pistol was still in the holster, tucked into Jarred’s waistband.

Jarred had grown up in a firearms house – rifles and handguns. Bud is an NRA lifer, and his wife used to pack when she worked as a probation officer.

The Browns refused to accept that Jarred had accidentally shot himself. “Jarred knew his way around guns and safety better than I did,” Bud says. “He never would have done anything that would have made that gun go off.”

Your impulse may well be to think, “that’s what they all say.”

But in this case….

Turns out the Taurus – one of its models is the top-selling revolver in this country – was known to be a bit problematic.

A friend of Jarred did some research and:

…found a curious announcement on Taurus’s website: The company was offering to fix or replace nine of its handguns. The pistol that killed his friend was on the list.

To settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed that Tauruses (Tauri?) “can fire unintentionally when bumped or dropped”.

Taurus offered to fix or buy back the approximately 1 million bad guns.

The company denied any negligence, wrongdoing, or defects in its firearms and also denied that its offer to fix its guns was a recall.

Bud Brown wondered why this was the case. And why the government, which was all over moldy UGG comforters, let Taurus guns be sold.

The simple answer is that no government entity has the power to police defective firearms or ammunition in America—or even force gunmakers to warn consumers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission can order the recall and repair of thousands of things, from toasters to teddy bears. If a defective car needs fixing, the U.S. Department of Transportation can make it happen. The Food and Drug Administration deals with food, drugs, and cosmetics. Only one product is beyond the government’s reach when it comes to defects and safety: firearms. Not even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can get defective guns off the market. If a gunmaker chooses to ignore a safety concern, there’s no one to stop it.

Turns out the lack of this particular gun regulation dates back to 1972, when the issue came up and was staunchly opposed by John Dingell, a Democrat and NRA-er (and, yes, the same John Dingell who just retired in 2014 at the age of 88). Most members of Congress went along, and kept the CPSC out of the firearms biz by a vote of 339-80.

Along with wondering why the government wasn’t doing anything about bad buns, Brown also wondered why his NRA – supposed so keen on its gun safety mission – didn’t warn members about the Taurus, even though they had on occasion publicized other gun recalls.

“Why didn’t the NRA warn us? I guess there’s too much money and politics going into the NRA, so they had reason not to tell us,” he says.

No surprise, the former president of Taurus International was a good bud of Wayne LaPierre, the well-known NRA EVP. (You’d recognize him. Wayne’s the angry old man with foam coming out the sides of his mouth.)

So Brown is taking on Taurus, and doing so “as an avid hunter and gun owner” who doesn’t “want someone to pick up a case and say, ‘They just want to take away our guns.’”

Taurus is looking to dismiss the case, claiming that  - despite the buy-back/repair program for nearly 1 million guns – their guns aren’t defective.

If the case goes to jury, even in a gun-friendly area (Brown is from Georgia), I’d bet that in the current climate, the jury sides with Brown.

It won’t get him his son back but still.

Anyway, wouldn’t you think that, given that they can order a recall of bacterial cantaloupes and moldy comforters, the government might want to do a bit of oversight on defective guns. Bad enough there are so many crazy gun nuts out there. I sure don’t want to be anywhere near a gun that can go off by itself.

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