Policy Work on Firearms

The United States of America has a complicated relationship with guns. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment to the Constitution as protecting an individual right to own a gun. At the same time, reasonable people disagree over whether gun ownership really is a constitutional right, and what regulations are permissible under existing precedent. Guns are prevalent in entertainment (from movies to video games), and statistics suggest there are more guns in the United States than people. As a result, notwithstanding the wishes of some people and the fears of others, it is not likely that guns will be regulated out of existence any time soon. 

Scholars, activists, and the general public disagree about the ethics and justice of gun ownership and restrictions, about the consequences of gun ownership and restrictions for crime and accidental death, and about the politics of firearms, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Even if a constitutional or moral right exists, it doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about the moral obligations we have toward others in how, or whether, we manufacture, sell, own, store, and carry guns. 

On November 11-13, 2022, the Center for Ethics in Society, hosted a group of political scientists, sociologists, historians, lawyers, and public health experts at a workshop - “The Ethics, Law, and Social Science of Self-Defense and Firearms” - to consider many of the issues associated with America’s gun culture. The workshop’s goal was to share research and advance the scholarly conversation on gun culture without the divisions and lack of nuance that characterizes the current debate. 


"Regulating Guns as Products"
Benjamin L. Cavataro, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
Benjamin L. Cavataro, Regulating Guns as Products, 92 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 87 (2024) 

Available on SSRN at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4418326


Toy guns are subject to federal product safety regulation. Real guns are not. If a defect in an air rifle causes it to discharge without warning, the manufacturer would be required to promptly notify a safety regulator (the Consumer Product Safety Commission); to recall the air rifle; and to provide a repair, replacement, or refund to consumers. Yet when such defects occur in real guns, the firearms industry has no such obligation. This unique immunity from product safety regulation allows gun defects to go unremediated for far too long. The result is tragic: needless deaths and injuries of police officers, ordinary gun owners, children, and bystanders. 

This article argues that the status quo is unacceptable, and proposes a clear, workable solution. Congress should empower the Commission to regulate the safety of guns as products, without granting the Commission authority over "gun control" as traditionally understood. This approach resolves the inadequacies of industry self-regulation, tort, and state consumer law; appropriately leverages the existing Consumer Product Safety Act framework; and is consistent with the Commission’s longstanding oversight of holsters, gun locks, and gun safes. Under this approach, the firearms industry would be obligated to report safety defects, recall dangerously defective firearms, and offer remedies to consumers. The Commission could also consider adopting common-sense product safety standards (such as regulations to ensure that new firearms have functional safety devices, and do not discharge without a trigger pull), just as the Commission adopts safety standards for many other consumer products. But the Commission would be precluded from regulating guns to curtail gun violence or suicide, or to reduce guns’ prevalence. 

This approach is fully compatible with the Second Amendment in light of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022). And lifting the firearms industry’s immunity from product safety law—thereby regulating guns as products—has helpful implications for broader debates on gun law and policy. By establishing that Commission regulation could simultaneously protect the public from harm and facilitate the right to lawful self-defense, this Article’s proposal demonstrates that some gun regulations can concurrently respect gun rights, uphold consumers’ rights, and protect lives—and, in doing so, reveals fissures between the interests of the gun industry and gun owners.