Guns? How Could I Have Known They’d Kill People?!

Two days ago I asked, Is Every Product a Potential Weapon? (I started with a story about Caterpillar bulldozers being used by the Israeli army, and suggested some principles for deciding whether, in particular cases, companies are responsible for the eventual uses to which their products are put.)

Today’s New York Times has a story that serves as a good follow-up: U.S. Is a Vast Arms Bazaar for Mexican Cartels

The Mexican agents who moved in on a safe house full of drug dealers last May were not prepared for the fire power that greeted them.
When the shooting was over, eight agents were dead. Among the guns the police recovered was an assault rifle traced back across the border to a dingy gun store [in Phoenix] called X-Caliber Guns.

Recall the two principles I suggested on Tuesday:

  • 1. The general principle of moral responsibility that says we’re responsible for “the foreseeable outcomes of our intentional actions.”
  • 2. The “principle of intervening action.” That principle says roughly that if someone else gets to make a choice along the causal chain between my action A and some outcome Z, my own causal responsiblity for Z is diminished, along with my moral responsibility for Z.

Clearly the deaths in Mexico were, under the circumstances, foreseeable outcomes of selling military-grade firearms to people known to be supplying them to Mexican cartels. What about the “principle of intervening action?” After all, the gun dealers didn’t kill anyone. Someone else did. Someone else’s intentions interrupt the causal chain between the sale and the deaths. True, but when the “intervening action” (i.e., the choice to use the guns to kill people) is fully predictable, we reach the limits of the exculpatory force of that principle.

7 comments so far

  1. A voice in the wilderness on

    Is there a proper versus improper use of a dangerous product? Rat poison is used to kill rats, misused it will kill people. A gun us designed to kill people, but like rat poison relies on the user to determine the proper time and place to use it. Few would argue that my defending my wife and my self against a knife waiving burgler would be a proper use of a gun. Few would argue that my using the same gun to kill strangers walking down the street was an improper use.A screwdrive on the table has the potential to tighten your door’s hinges, while a gun next to it only has the potential to kill someone. The person using the gun carries the responsibility for proper or improperly using either tool.

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Voice:When you ask “Is there a proper versus improper use of a dangerous product?” I assume that’s a rhetorical question, since you’ve answered it yourself. That pretty much any product is subject to misuse is clear. The question is whether anyone other than the end user is ever, even partly, responsible. I think the answer is yes. (e.g., Handing a handgun to a deranged man makes you at least partly responsible for the result.)Chris.

  3. Heberto X. Peterson R. on

    We have here an example of the difficulties between too countries and the way they treat the use of guns. In one hand the US gives the right to use guns, and I hope that they make responsible for the use to the owners. In Mexico the use of guns by particulars is illegal, so any use of guns it will be punished by law.If the gun was sale in the US and used in México, there should be a shared responsibility.I mean, the selling of guns in the MEX-US border has given the drug cartels a strong fire power, the note that Chis publish gives a good example.

  4. Anonymous on

    Bear with me before anyone jumps down my throat or accuses me of being in favour of assault weapons being sold to the general public. But: I would rather the cartels use more accurate, U.S. made AR-15s(variant of M-16) than AK-47s and AK-74s smuggled north from former Sandinistas (who got them from Cuba). Kalishnikovs are heavier calibre. In drive-by shootings where passersby are at risk “AK spray” will kill more civilians and penetrate homes and cars more than the .223 round which most U.S. automatic rifles use. AKs jam less and are easier to maintain – simple for campesino turned assasins to learn to use. Its an unusual sounding argument but I’d rather they shoot straight, wound more than kill and not “pray and spray”. – Kevin McDonald, Halifax, N.S.

  5. Anonymous on

    There is enough evidence showing that the production and distribution of weapons marketed as the ultimate peacekeeping and security solution does nothing but to escalate violence and produce regretable outcomes for whoever is involved in conflicts.Obviously I would never want to have my wife threatened. But even in this extreme situation, if given a choice, my main goal would be to release her from danger, not to murder her potential assaulter. The use of fire arms to kill human beings seems to be a lazy solution for the dilemma. I would argue that not enough time and resorces have been dedicated to address major sources of social insecurity, mechanisms of conflict resolution and even more elaborated, non-fatal, patrolling tools.Therefore, manufacturers seeking profits by developing efficient murdering devices need to be held accountable for not approapriately allocating their innovation efforts to serve society. And governments that sucumb to their juicy lobby dollars are also responsible for the escalating violence and horrific stories ordinarily seen every day on the evening news.From this point of view, end users could even have some of their burden waived.Rogerio MarquesToronto, ON

  6. Anonymous on

    Having lived in the U.S. for seventeen years I suspect that it is more a case of second amendment rights being considered sacrosanct, and a large rural vote in red states then it is a case of the N.R.A. outspending and outlobbying gun control advocates. We spread west by the rule of law and under British colonial rule. They spread west by the rule of the Colt, Remington and Winchester. But I would agreee with you that once a society is awash in even legal, accurate firearms it is hard to keep them out of the hands of criminals. I only support carry laws and concealed carry laws for those who can prove they are in danger or have received threats. Having to rely on a cop or mountie to protect you or your loved ones when a real threat exists and has been documented is ludicrous. But one should also have to have safety training, accident insurance liability going to a million or more and gun cabinets and locks etc. Kevin McDonald, Halifax, N.S.

  7. Anonymous on

    Posted by Kevin McDonald, Halifax, N.S.:“In drive-by shootings where passersby are at risk “AK spray” will kill more civilians and penetrate homes and cars more than the .223 round which most U.S. automatic rifles use.”You can’t buy an automatic rifle in a U.S. gun store. They were outlawed a long time before Bill Clinton became president.You can only buy semi-automatic rifles that look like automatic rifles.An automatic rifle or machine gun, keeps firing bullets until you either release the trigger or run out of ammo.A semi-automatic rifle will only fire one bullet when you pull and hold the trigger.Regards,Milson Wilson


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