Gun Manufacturer Liability

In Torts yesterday, we started on strict products liability. At some point, we touched on the liability of gun manufacturers for the costs of crimes committed with guns. This naturally started up a shitstorm.

First, let’s assume that there is in fact a legitimate public interest in ordinary citizens being able to buy a gun (if there weren’t, then we would be discussing banning guns period, not strict products liability). Given that legitimate interest, my initial reaction was that holding gun manufacturers liable for gun crimes would be horribly unfair. It’d be the equivalent of holdng auto-manufacturers liable for hit and runs. After talking to my modmate Sam though, I think, from an economic efficiency and loss distribution perspective at least, it’s an interesting proposition.

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Impartial Defined

I’m going to Berkeley Law this fall, and in an attempt to get my toes wet, spent some time going over the transcript of the Sotomayor hearings earlier today. One of the issues that came up repeatedly was whether allowing “life experiences” to affect your judgment violated the duty of a judge to remain impartial. The most experience I have with judging is high school debate, so … big grain of salt, but myinitial reaction is no, it doesn’t. To understand why, let’s step back a little bit and consider what it even means to be impartial.

Law is not math. It is subject to interpretation. When your laws are written over the course of over two hundred (occasionally turbulent) year by thousands of (occasionally boneheaded) individuals, you’re going to get contradictions, gray areas, and general stupidity.  Ideally, you’d ask the legislature to clarify, but it’s possible (probable?) that individuals within the legislature will disagree on what they meant when they wrote it. And that’s assuming the individuals are still alive and conscious.

Therefore, law cannot be impartially interpreted in the same manner that, say, a calculator impartially interprets a mathematical equation. Instead, the best a judge can do to be impartial is to be consistent and by extension, predictable.

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