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William A. Levinson, P.E.  Principal
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Basic position statement

The "smart gun"/ safety lock fraud

Verdict against Valor Corporation: where's the outrage?

Lies, damned lies, and statistics


Confusing cause (design variables) with effect (response variables)

Frivolous Lawsuits Against the Firearm Industry

Unscrupulous individuals, organizations, and governments (e.g. municipalities) are filing lawsuits against firearm manufacturers for the damage that results from the misuse of these products. Many of these entities have serious probems with ethics, character, good faith, and integrity but, since this is a professional and not a political Web page, it will limit itself to the technological aspects of these lawsuits.
I can offer consulting and probably expert witness services with regard to the "lies, damned lies, and statistics" (to use Mark Twain's words) that are used by plaintiffs in these cases. The Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (formerly Handgun Control Inc.) has a long record of distorting and misusing statistics to "prove" its points. Note: I am not impartial, nor do I claim to be impartial, on the Second Amendment. I provide, however, nothing but accurate and verifiable information to clients and third parties. In fact, my preference would be to provide a court with evidence that it could verify for itself. People are generally more receptive when they prove something to themselves as opposed to taking someone else's word for it.

Basic position statement
It is the position of Levinson Productivity Systems, P.C., that manufacturing is the foundation of the United States' military security and economic well-being. Manufacturing, agriculture, and extractive industries like mining are the only activities that create wealth. Anyone and anything that attacks a manufacturing firm without just cause is attacking the foundation of our country's affluence and security.

This does not mean that manufacturing companies should not be accountable when product defects cause harm. I would certainly consider a firearm manufacturer liable if (assuming that the user hadn't left an obstruction in the barrel) one of its products blew up in its user's face. I'd hold the manufacturer responsible if the firing pin or hammer fell without the trigger being pulled, although the user is still responsible for making sure the firearm is always pointed in a safe direction.

Anti-Second Amendment groups sometimes compare firearms to tobacco and try to hold firearm manufacturers accountable for deaths and injuries that result from firearm misuse. This is a fraudulent analogy because firearms (and alcohol), when used in a safe and responsible manner for their intended purposes, have essentially zero chance of harming their users or innocent third parties. This is not true of tobacco, which damages health even when it is used safely and responsibly (i.e. not in bed or around flammable materials).

Attempting to hold a firearm manufacturer responsible for damage that results from the firearm's misuse is like suing the automobile manufacturer and the distiller when a drunk driver kills or injures an innocent person. The bartender who actually served the alcohol might be liable* if it can be shown that he knowingly served an intoxicated person, but it is ludicrous to blame the distiller who made the beverage. The automaker might be liable if a physical defect in the car, like faulty brakes or steering, contributed to the accident, but not if the accident was due solely to the fact that a pink elephant happened to be the night's designated driver.

It is accordingly my position* that these lawsuits against gun manufacturers are frivolous and meritless. I also think that most of those who are filing them know it.

* I am not an attorney and nothing on this page constitutes legal advice. Nothing here is to be construed as engineering advice; I cannot provide official engineering advice without reviewing your situation, and I may need to become licensed in your state to do this. Furthermore, I recommend consultation with a mechanical engineer regarding expert testimony on the actual mechanical design of any firearm, as this is not among my areas of expertise.

The "smart gun"/ safety lock issue (See William A. Levinon's letter to the editor, Wall Street Journal, 5 November 2002)
Anti-Second Amendment groups are now arguing that firearms should be fitted with safety locks or other "smart" technology that will prevent anyone but their authorized users from firing them. As an example, http://www.gunlawsuits.org/features/press/release.asp?Record=398 (the Brady Center is involved in this) says in part, "Despite having the ability to design weapons that will fire only in the hands of authorized users, gun manufacturers have refused to do so. Under Florida law, a distributor or dealer who sells a defectively designed product can be held liable just as the manufacturer can be held liable." To assess the merits of this argument, we need look no further than the following:
  • Handgun Control Inc./ Brady Center attorney Dennis Henigen "At a recent antigun conference in Chicago, Mr. Henigan, who is the top lawyer with Handgun Control Inc., the country's largest gun control organization, waved a version of the [Saf T Lock], extolling how easy it is to operate. Then, punching in what he thought was the correct combination, the lawyer failed to unlock the gun, much to the evident discomfort of the sympathetic audience." He excused his failure with the words, "Even if a klutz like me fumbles on the first try, the benefits of having a lock outweigh the risks." (Barrett, "A Simple Invention Points Up Complexity of Gun-Control Suits," Wall Street Journal, 4/23/99, A1).
    • Sorry, Mr. Henigan, you don't get a second try. Had you been facing a violent assailant instead of a friendly audience, you would be dead, along with any family members who were relying on you for protection. In fact, no ethical design engineer-- and the Brady Center's position criticizes firearm designs-- would ever design a feature into a product that could easily result in serious harm to its owner, as you proved to yourself that the Saf T Lock could.
  • Maryland governor Parris Glendening, another gun control supporter and advocate of so-called smart guns, offers the following evidence: "Yesterday, the Maryland-National Capital Park Police announced that its officers would begin using one version of the locks, locking magazines, on their Glock pistols when they are off-duty. At a photo opportunity at the department's Silver Spring headquarters, Glendening had an extended struggle to remove a locking magazine from one of the pistols." --"Dumbing Down Smart Guns: Md. Senate to Vote on a Weakened Version of Bill." Daniel LeDuc, Washington Post Staff Writer, Thursday, March 23, 2000; Page B04
  • One might also ask why police officers, who are often killed with their own firearms, aren't first in line to install such technology on their sidearms.
  • Electromagnetic interference weapons could conceivably make "smart guns" useless. Per Ivan Amato, "Crossed Signals: the wireless threat to our electronic infrastructure" (U.S. News & World Report, 16 December 2002, 54-56), "Virtually any electronic system could be disabled, or even destroyed, by electromagnetic interference." The article describes how a high school student built a prototype EMI weapon from scavanged parts and shut down his computer and phone lines in tests. Almost-homemade EMI weapons have also been successful in disabling cars, radios, medical intravenous pumps.  A more-powerful EMI weapon (trailer-sized) fried engine control computers at 1000 yards (almost a kilometer). Japanese criminals used an EMI device to make a Pachninko machine spit out cash.
A firearm that is kept for self-protection is a piece of emergency equipment. Consider a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, whose dry-ice discharge can endanger anyone who happens to be in its path. Only a safety pin prevents the extinguisher from being discharged, and there's a good reason for this; if you need it, you need it in a hurry. The need is even more urgent with a firearm. A fire (which you should try to escape unless you're sure you can fight it successfully) won't deliberately pursue you if you decide to run away from it, and it's not capable of shooting you in the back. An armed assailant is far more dangerous, and that's what your firearm emergency equipment is designed to stop. You cannot afford to fiddle and fumble with any kind of lock under these circumstances.

Secondly, people do strange things in emergency situations. I recall a laboratory fire when I was in college. I thought for some reason that squeezing the fire extinguisher's lower handle would discharge it-- so I picked up the whole thing by its body after I pulled the pin. Only when I squeezed the two handles to discharge it at the fire did I realize that  the upper handle is the trigger. And I thought I was handling the situation in a very calm and detached manner, too. The fire, unlike an armed assailant, did not present an immediate threat to my life either, although I recall thinking that it could have touched off nearby flammable solvents.

Many muzzleloading Civil War rifles were found with several charges in them. This is evidence that the soldier didn't realize that his rifle hadn't fired, so he loaded a second charge (and then a third and a fourth) on top of the first. These soldiers had been drilled to load and fire as quickly as possible, but they still made mistakes in a life-threatening situation. My father told me that, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, his unit's machinegunner forgot to fill the gun's water jacket before he began to fire at the Japanese, and he burned out the barrel.

Dennis Henigan and Parris Glendening botched a simple demonstration, in front of friendly audiences, with gun safety locks. One can only imagine how they'd have done in confrontations with armed assailants who were trying to kill them but these two individuals (and their cohorts) have no problem with continuing to insist that they are right.

Verdict against Valor Corporation in shooting incident. Where did they find these jurors?
Gun Company Must Pay Teacher's Widow (Click10.com for complete story)
 Posted: 5:02 p.m. EST November 14, 2002
Updated: 10:19 a.m. EST November 15, 2002

...The case stems from the murder of teacher Barry Grunow by one of his students. Nathaniel Brazill, 16, shot Grunow to death two years ago in a West Palm Beach classroom.

 Grunow's lawyer asked for $76 million. But the jury found gun distributor Valor Corporation 5 percent liable for Grunow's death. The owner of the gun and the school board held the most of the liability, the jury found.

The jury didn't find any liability for Brazill, who pulled the trigger. Brazill stole the unloaded gun and bullets from a cookie tin stashed away in a dresser drawer of family friend Elmore McCray.

The only explanation of which I can think is that the jury consisted solely of people who buy supermarket tabloids (and take them as fact), and/or are addicted Flordia State Lottery players. Using this jury's logic: "X steals an automobile from Y, and then deliberately drives it into a crowd of people. Y (the theft victim) and the automobile manufacturer are responsible for the damages, but X is not responsible."

Lies, damned lies, and statistics from Handgun Control Inc.
This is an area in which I am probably qualified to offer expert testimony. I am an applied statistician with numerous publications and professional certifications. I also have extensive experience in making statistical concepts understandable to laymen, such as manufacturing operators-- so I can make them understandable to judges and jurors.

Consider the statement, "Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point lost half the major battles in one of the United States' biggest wars." This statement is absolutely true, and someone who didn't like West Point could use it to suggest that the USMA does not train competent officers. Now for the complete story: the war in question was the Civil War, and West Point-trained officers were usually commanding both sides. There was obviously no way that West Point officers could win more than half the Civil War's battles.

The following is an exact quote from Handgun Control Incorporated, http://www.handguncontrol.org/firearm_facts.htm (as of 1999, it's now the Brady Center)

"Thinking of buying a gun to protect your home? You may want to remember that guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill a family member or friend than to kill in self-defense."
This sounds like a good case for not having guns until you consider the fact that "family members" include abusive spouses who are often under court orders to stay away from the spouse who is in the home. If a woman kills her estranged husband as he is trying to break into the home to attack her and her children, for example, he falls into the "family member" casualty statistics. The same applies to a family member who, with murderous intent, goes out and buys a firearm (legally or illegally) with which to kill another family member. (That is, the murderous intent is the cause of the firearm being present, as opposed to the firearm's presence sparking a "crime of passion.") "Friends" (or, more accurately, associates- "someone you know") include drug dealers and other criminals. If a drug dealer kills a supplier, customer, or rival, the killing counts toward "associates." A pimp (criminal) who kills one of his "girls" is killing "someone he knows," and vice versa. If Al Capone's hoods knew Bugs Moran's hoods, the Saint Valentine's Day massacre also would fall into this category.

Now examine the words, "43 times more likely to kill," which suggest that a gun that is kept for self-defense is unlikely to prevent a violent assault on its owner. From police instructor   Massad Ayoob's, The Truth About Self Protection, page 327. "For every one shooting thirteen to fifteen criminals are deterred or driven off just by the sight of the gun, and this fully accomplishes what the homeowner bought the gun for in the first place. When you also consider the fact that only about one out of four people who are shot actually dies, you realize that for every home intruder shot dead by the resident, there are ninety-nine others who don't get killed, but who give up their assaults."

Brochure from Doctors for Integrity in Research & Public Policy, located at 5201 Norris Canyon Road, Suite 140, San Ramon, CA 94583. "Gun prohibitionists would have us believe that most murders involve ordinary people driven to kill in a sudden fit of rage, only because a gun was present. This is based on HCI's distortion of the FBI's Uniform Crime Report statistics. To the FBI,  a murderer that lives in the victim's apartment building or drug criminals that know each other are 'acquaintances.' ...  Almost all the 'relatives' killed each year are the very same men, well-known to the police, that have been brutalizing their wives, girlfriends,  and children for years - those men are killed in self-defense."

Confusing cause and effect
Industrial statisticians know the difference between the design or input variables (the causes) and the response variable (the effect). Anti-Second Amendment organizations like to switch them around to confuse and deceive their audiences.

Consider the following statement. During the Middle Ages (before Europeans took to bathing regularly), healthy people usually had lice. Sick people, however, had no lice. Accordingly, it was healthy to have lice. (That is, lice are the cause and good health is the effect.) The reason for the indicated observation was, however, that sick people's fevers drove their lice away. Good health, or not having a fever, was the cause and the presence of the lice was the effect.

Handgun Control Incorporated's news release, "Statement of Sarah Brady re: Gun Deaths, Injuries on the Decline," provides a glaring example of deceptive manipulation of statistics. From HCI's own Web page,  (http://www.handguncontrol.org/press/release.asp?Record=104 from 1999, link may have changed or been removed): "What’s more, a more sobering study conducted by the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California-Davis found that suicide is the leading cause of death among gun buyers, especially women, in the first year after the weapon was purchased. In fact, the study -- which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine -- found that a person who purchases a handgun is 57 times more likely to commit suicide within a week of buying the weapon than the general population as a whole."

The statement confuses cause with effect, and it can easily mislead people who are not statisticians- which is doubtlessly its intention. The figure that Ms. Brady presents implies that, if YOU buy a handgun, you are 57 times more likely to commit suicide within a week of buying it than a member of the general population. That is what HCI wants you to believe. The truth is that the relatively small population of people who buy handguns in any given week (remember, even gun owners may buy only one or two in their entire lifetimes) includes all first-time gun buyers whose sole intention is to do away with themselves. This subset of first-time gun buyers is small, but it is compared to a very small subset of the population: the number who buy handguns in any given week.

  • What HCI wants you to believe: "If I buy a gun, I'll realize that I have an easy means of ending my life, and during the first week of ownership I'll be so tempted to blow my brains out that I just won't be able to help myself."
  • The truth: A suicidal person who has never owned a gun thinks, "I can hang myself, but that might be painful and messy. Pills are painless but they're not certain: someone may find me before I check out." [Psychiatrists think that many people who use pills want to be found and that their suicide attempt is really a "cry for help."] "A knife or a razor might be painful; I don't think I can do it. A gun ought to be both certain and painless, so I'll buy a gun." Now, someone who does this will doubtlessly use the gun within a day or so of buying it.
In other words, buying a handgun does not make anyone more likely to want to commit suicide, but planning to commit suicide can make someone much more likely to buy a handgun if they don't have one. One could probably come up with similar "statistics" for first-time purchasers of ropes, sleeping pills, and straight razor blades.

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